Barack Obama might have less experience in Washington than most of his rivals, but he is quickly learning the rules to media coverage. A candidate can receive coverage both for announcing an exploratory committee, and then again for announcing that they are actually running. The cable news networks were repeating film of his announcement today with Breaking News banners. Is a previously announced appearance to say what everyone knew was going to happen really Breaking News?
Obama is trying hard to turn his lack of experience into something positive:
I recognize there is a certain presumptuousness – a certain audacity – to this announcement. I know I haven’t spent a lot of time learning the ways of Washington. But I’ve been there long enough to know that the ways of Washington must change.
The genius of our founders is that they designed a system of government that can be changed. And we should take heart, because we’ve changed this country before. In the face of tyranny, a band of patriots brought an Empire to its knees. In the face of secession, we unified a nation and set the captives free. In the face of Depression, we put people back to work and lifted millions out of poverty. We welcomed immigrants to our shores, we opened railroads to the west, we landed a man on the moon, and we heard a King’s call to let justice roll down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.
Each and every time, a new generation has risen up and done what’s needed to be done. Today we are called once more – and it is time for our generation to answer that call.
Frank Rich is more concerned with Obama’s judgement than experience:
The day after the resolution debacle, I spoke with Senator Obama about the war and about his candidacy. Since we talked by phone, I can’t swear he was clean, but he was definitely articulate. He doesn’t yet sound as completely scripted as his opponents — though some talking-point-itis is creeping in — and he isn’t remotely defensive as he shrugs off the race contretemps du jour prompted by his White House run. Not that he’s all sweetness and light. “If the criterion is how long you’ve been in Washington, then we should just go ahead and assign Joe Biden or Chris Dodd the nomination,” he said. “What people are looking for is judgment.”
What Mr. Obama did not have to say is that he had the judgment about Iraq that his rivals lacked. As an Illinois state senator with no access to intelligence reports, he recognized in October 2002 that administration claims of Saddam’s “imminent and direct threat to the United States” were hype and foresaw that an American occupation of Iraq would be of “undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences.” Nor can he be pilloried as soft on terrorism by the Cheney-Lieberman axis of neo-McCarthyism. “I don’t oppose all wars,” he said in the same Chicago speech. “What I am opposed to is a dumb war.”
Rich concluded his column with suggesting that the inexperienced might do better than those who have been in Washington:
Washington’s conventional wisdom has it that the worse things go in the war, the more voters will want to stick with the tried and true: Clinton, McCain, Giuliani. But as Mr. Obama reminds us, “Nobody had better Washington résumés than Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld.” In the wake of the catastrophe they and their enablers in both parties have made, the inexperienced should have a crack at inheriting the earth, especially if they’re clean.
The Carpetbagger Report compares years in elected office among several of the candidates:
* Obama: 10 years (7 state Senate, 3 U.S. Senate)
* Clinton: 8 years (8 U.S. Senate)
* Edwards: 6 years (6 U.S. Senate)
* Giuliani: 8 years (two, four-year mayoral terms)
* Romney: 4 years (one four-year gubernatorial term)
* McCain: 25 years (4 U.S. House, 21 U.S. Senate)
Of course that doesn’t tell the whole story. Hillary Clinton gained valuable experience from her unique role as First Lady. Obama’s work as a community organizer and teaching Constitutional law also provide him with some relevant experience.
Unfortunately it is not experience that is propelling candidates to the top tier. While there is reason to question nominating Obama based upon his charisma alone, we also know Hillary Clinton benefits tremendously from her connection to Bill. John Edwards, who is by far the least qualified to be considered for national office, benefits from both name recognition and a slick style but I fear he runs the greatest risk of being overshadowed by any of the leading Republican candidates.
Obama has shown he can compete with anyone in terms of charisma and articulating general principles. It will be interesting to watch to see how well he does when forced to say more about how he would deal with specific issues.