Voters are advised to choose between experience and, as some have put it, “a roll of the dice” when electing a president this November. But it isn’t so starkly simple. The current inhabitant of the White House lacked experience, gravitas and intellectual curiosity to put the best face on his persona, yet many people could see themselves tossing back a few beers with him, and they liked that mental image – – or so we’ve been told.
But precisely because he lacked the attributes one expects in the leader of the free world he surrounded himself with advisors who had many years of experience. Wasn’t that Don Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam Hussein a while back? And wasn’t Condoleezza Rice a Russian expert, and Dick Cheney well versed in Middle East affairs where his business interests often took him? And didn’t President Bush have earnest advice from neo-cons whose long-sought goals were realized with the invasion of Iraq?
In today’s feverish campaign cycle arguments about experience and change abound. Candidate Giuliani opined recently that change isn’t always a good thing – – higher taxes wouldn’t be a positive change would it? But what kind of experience does he bring to the table – – a bad choice for NYC’s Command Center, a bad choice of pal Bernie Kerik for Homeland Security Secretary, repeated tax cuts that left behind an endangered infrastructure and a cold shoulder to post-9/11cleanup crews who continue to suffer health problems because of their exposure to toxic conditions at the Trade Center site.
Republicans tend to speak of “change” yet promote policies remarkably similar to those of the current administration: tax cuts are always good, even if they benefit the rich and protect corporate interests with dummy entities offshore – – no matter that American jobs are exported to swell corporate profit margins which weren’t shabby to being with. As for that old war horse, John McCain, military credentials and a conservative voting record define his candidacy not change. Who cares, he says, if we stay in Iraq for fifty or a hundred years; don’t we still have troops in Germany and Japan? Are voters supposed to buy that rationale? The Second World War ended when our opponents surrendered, and current deployments are a peaceful presence.
But fear continues to be used by Republican candidates to frame election-year debates. And the stated need to increase our troop levels reinforces a sense that our armed forces will continue to direct the course of our foreign policy and an economy ever more dependent on the military-industrial complex, that our most distinguished military leader, President Dwight D Eisenhower, warned against as he was leaving office.
Despite the rousing call to arms, however, Senator McCain’s outings are an uninspiring letdown in the aftermath of the excitement generated at Barak Obama’s rallies. And although McCain supporters assert he is ready to hit the floor running every morning, there’s no avoiding the issue of his age, a factor that reflections about his service in Viet Nam only serve to highlight – – a war hero he is, a leader for our times he is not. Support for the war in Iraq and his posturing with respect to Iran do not suggest a fresh, insightful agenda. The ethnically-cleansed neighborhoods in Baghdad, the lingering hatreds and Iraq’s fractured loyalties make the notion of “victory” there his personal pipe dream.
Senator Clinton’s gatherings aren’t as pallid as McCain’s and her experience is better-rounded than his, but the Obama mystique often overwhelms her too. She tends to be instructional rather than inspirational and the capacity of voters to absorb instruction is limited; they need to be inspired not just educated.
In the end one comes to understand that experience is desirable but it isn’t the only thing. Experienced pols often produce bad results. Motivating voters and building a team of competent advisors is plenty enough after what the country has been put through for the past seven years.