Making stuff as a founder of Avocado. Former music-maker. Tuna melt advocate. Started Google Reader. (But smarter people made it great.)

Are You Experienced? Palin and Obama. A Comparison.

Y’all, circumstances have induced me to put my hand in the toilet. Now I'm posting about politics.
I'm so disappointed in myself. :( So...

Recently (and especially tonight) there'll be a lot of voices saying the Republican Vice-Presidential nominee has more relevant experience than the Democratic Presidential nominee regarding the executive offices they seek. Is this true? I wouldn't have thought so, but I've been very wrong about so many things that I realized I should spend some time trying to diminish my ignorance.

(I know it might seem that discussing Obama's experience in the context of Palin's is false equivalency. But a lot of people out there really think their qualifications for executive office are nearly equal. They're not crazy, they're putting forth some effort here, so it seems worth a second to see what this is about.)

The debate about who has more experience has included checklists. I started to cobble one together. It definitely could use some's just a start.

Barack ObamaSarah Palin
(left Trinity United Church of Christ after condeming his pastor's inflammatory rhetoric, might now worship at Apostolic Church of God)
(attends Juneau Christian Center, grew up attending Wasilla Assembly of God)
Current jobSenator of IllinoisGovernor of Alaska
Previous jobsDirector of the Developing Communities Project in Chicago (1985-1988);
Summer law associate at Sidley & Austin (1989);
Summer law associate at Hopkins & Sutter (1990);
Director of Illinois Project Vote (1992);
Associate at Davis, Miner, Barnhill & Galland (1993-1996);
Lecturer at University of Chicago Law School (1992-1996);
Senior Lecturer at University of Chicago Law School (1996-2004);
Illinois State Senator (1997-2004)
Sports Reporter for KTUU-TV in Anchorage (?-1988);
City Council member of Wasilla, AK (1992-1996);
Mayor of Wasilla, AK (1996-2002)
Foreign policy experienceHas limited congressional work in foreign policy... He sponsored or introduced several bills with foreign policy implications, including:

109 S. 2125 - the Democratic Republic of the Congo Relief, Security, and Democracy Promotion Act of 2005;
110 S. 433 - the Iraq War De-Escalation Act of 2007;
110 S.CON.RES. 25 - Condemning the recent violent actions of the Government of Zimbabwe against peaceful opposition party activists and members of civil society;
110S. 1430 - Iran Sanctions Enabling Act;

--- and he's held an assignment on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during which he made official trips to Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa

-- and he became Chairman of the Senate's subcommittee on European Affairs, but this barely counts since he hasn't yet called it into session. (It's been stagnant a year!)
Almost none... though she is the Commander in Chief of the Alaska National Guard. But according to Major General Craig E. Campbell, immediate commander of the Alaska National Guard, she hasn't yet played a role in any defense activities relating to the Guard but that she's "extremely responsive and smart" and in charge when it comes to in-state services, such as emergencies and natural disasters where the National Guard is the first responder... [Associate Press cite]
Domestic policy experience
Reformed ethics and health care laws in Chicago's South Side.
Increased tax credits for low-income voters.
Helped reform Chicago welfare.
Promoted city-wide childcare subsidies.
Supported loan reform before the mortgage meltdown.
He was Chairman of the Illinois Senate's Health and Human Services Committee.
Helped enact death penalty reforms for Illinois.
Sponsored 131 bills since 2005 and has co-sponsored 619 bills during that time.
In charge of the Wasilla Police Department and Public Works.
Cut her own salary while cutting property taxes.
Secured $27 million in earmarked funds for Wasilla.
Chaired the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. (Resigned in protest over the ethics violations of colleagues.)
Helped pass a tax increase on oil company profits.
Signed into law the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act (AGIA).
Signed into law a $6.6 billion operating budget for Alaska. The largest in that state's history.
Military experienceNever served.Never served.
(But her son is in an infantry brigade in the Army. And, as mentioned above, she is nominally the Commander in Chief of the Alaska National Guard despite not doing any commanding yet.)
EducationCollege degree, law degree, and college professor and lecturer.
Occidental college (1979-1981).
Columbia University, B.A. in political science with a specialization in international relations (1981-1983).
Harvard Law, J.D. and he graduated magna cum laude (1988-1991). While there he was President of the Harvard Law Review (1990).
Taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School for twelve years (1992-2004).
College degree.
University of Idaho, degree in journalism, minor in political science (1987). (Previously attended Hawaii Pacific College for a semester and transferred in from North Idaho College.)
HobbiesBasketball, teaching law, community service, writing (he published a memoir 3 years ago - cheeky!).Hunting (she's a lifetime member of the NRA), ice fishing, riding snowmobiles, she's also run a marathon and owns a floatplane. (I'm very jealous of the floatplane. Wicked awesome.)

I started with the following premises. I intended them to be non-partisan, however I'm sure a bias has crept in here or there. I'm often a lazy thinker. I've been assuming that...
Sarah Palin has demonstrated that she can face management crises. To many, this is obvious. Just helping to raise five children (I assume Todd helps as well) is an amazing and inspiring feat of management, especially given that Mrs. Palin faced sexism in her professional life despite her talents, and given that one of her sons, Trig, is developmentally disabled. It is churlish and petty to argue that balancing motherhood and professional responsibilities as a public servant is a somehow meager task. How can we dismiss this honestly when viewing Ms. Palin's qualifications? You may disagree with some of her decisions, but she is definitely accomplished at being Governor and being a mother of a large family - which can suggest she has amazing personal discipline and that she could also possibly be excellent at managing other things.

Barack Obama has also demonstrated that he can face management crises. To many, this is obvious. Just studying for and passing the state bar, becoming a professor, guiding students on complex issues of law, volunteering for community service, introducing and supporting national legislation, helping raise two children (I assume Michelle helps as well) while running successive state and national campaigns is an amazing feat of management, especially given that he also had to face racism on many occasions. It is churlish and petty to argue that balancing fatherhood, academia, and professional responsibilities as a public servant is a somehow meager task. How can we dismiss this honestly when viewing Mr. Obama's qualifications? You may disagree with some of his decisions, but he is definitely accomplished as a student, a lawyer, a professor, a Senator, a presidential campaigner, and a father - which can suggest he has amazing personal discipline and that he could also possibly be excellent at managing other things.
Both candidates seem to possess character traits suited to executive management based on the available evidence: they both can manage their time, their emotions, their employees, and their ambition. They both clearly have experience in delegating tasks and power. They both can argue and hold their own in political debates within government. They are both charismatic and attractive.

But there's this non-subtle difference in their pursuit of knowedge - I mean look at all that time Barack completely wasted (they might assume) in studying the law and in school and teaching advanced courses at the University of Chicago. What was that about?

This is the part where I get confused. Are we really doing this again as a country? Y'know, skimming the experience of people with advanced degrees and lifelong interests in academic study and snickering "they think they're so mighty pants" while concluding, well, their education is probably not important? Are we still highlighting skills in management and delegation while downplaying the totally different accomplishments of critical analysis and thinking?

The management experience is helpful stuff, but there's this difference that's compelling to me. Barack has had his ability to analyze critically rigorously tested and challenged for decades.

This isn't a subtle difference, is it? Really? Is experience in middle management all we're striving for in our potential Presidents? C'mon, everyone. Let's let some better light shine here.

To me the debate about experience weighs toward Mr. Obama not because Mrs. Palin is somehow incompetent (this is false and unfair) but because Mr. Obama has great (and greater) breadth and competency.

Just musing about political experience. Arguments about policy differences between them can go over there - you know - right over there, next door, on the many thousands of websites devoted to those arguments. That's not what this post was about. Don't argue about that shit here. I mean it.
posted at September 03, 2008, 12:46 PM


  • At 9:18 AM, Blogger anewman102 said…

    This piece ought to be handed out with voter registration. Speaking as an hysterical Palin-hater myself, I was glad to lean the facts for once. Thanks, Chris!

  • At 9:25 AM, Anonymous business Directory said…

    nice comparasion. Thanks for sharing.

  • At 5:15 PM, Blogger Daniel Kwiat said…

    I love this post--I love the rigorous thinking. But is the problem that we undervalue academic achievement--or that our political discourse is actually insufficiently political?

    Looking backwards through history, I don't see a connection between presidential or prime ministerial achievement, and prior years of scholarship and experience.

    Nor do I see a consistent connection between political actions, and academic achievement/prior experience.

    John Yoo, the legal theorist behind the Bush torture laws, is a professor of law at Berkeley; Glenn Greenwald is a graduate of George Washington University and NYU law, but not a professor and sans PhD.

    Milton Feldman was a brilliant economist; so is Paul Krugman.

    Paul Wolfowitz had decades of foreign policy experience and headed up an academic department at Johns Hopkins; Chris Wetherall is a bright young ex-Googler, with an scientific-method bent to his thinking, and zero big time creditials in foreign policy or the study of it.

    I'd rather Chris running American foreign policy than Paul!

    Well, this last comment blurs what I want to say. Which is: you can't take the politics out of politics.

    The essential difference between Obama and Palin lies in their different understandings of the American idea and in their different takes on its future possibilities.

  • At 12:28 PM, Blogger Remi said…

    This is a great post! I've been doing a similar comparison between McCain and Obama in their personal achievements that advance our society. Well, once again, there's no comparison, McCain was in the military then became a lawmaker, that's it. He pretty much voted along the GOP party lines all that time.

    On the other hand, Obama has taken so much initiative helping people, helping non-profits, pushing legislation, etc...

    The whole debate about how Obama lacks McCain's experience is heavily biased because what matters is not how old you are but how much you did to make America a better place.

  • At 6:56 AM, Anonymous Amy B said…

    I have to make one slightly picky correction. One of Obama's listed hobbies is social work. Technically, one has to be a licensed social worker in order to actually practice social work (I should know because I am one) and as far as I know, Obama's never been licensed. Maybe community service would be a better term (?).

  • At 3:40 AM, Blogger Chris Wetherell said…

    Thanks Amy, that's a good point. I'll make that change.

  • At 7:33 AM, Blogger Daniel Kwiat said…

    Furthering what I was trying to say:

    Antonin Scalia has experience and academic credentials; so does Justice Stevens. David Addington has eight years of experience, while Andrew Bacevich has none in the executive branch.

    What and how you think, not experience or education per se, are what matters.

    The experience issue - this was an pseudo issue concocted by the Republicans before Palin got on the ticket. It works because we're a country that in many ways has been politically neutered. For many citizens, "personality" and "experience" seem to trump matters such as rule of law and economic, foreign, and environmental policies.


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