Search results for the tag, "Experience"

October 13th, 2008

Experience Does Not Predict Success

Barack Obama and Sarah Palin

Many people enjoy pointing out how “inexperienced” Barack Obama and Sarah Palin are. I, myself, hung out in this crowd, and recently argued this point to my friend Jon Henke. Jon responded:

I don’t see how you can say one of those two is experienced and the other inexperienced. You’ve got to think they’re both sufficiently experienced, or neither are, to be intellectually honest about the thing.

Well, at the risk of being intellectually dishonest, consider the following. As a senator, Obama has legislative experience at the national level, of which Palin has none. As a mayor and governor, Palin has executive experience, of which Obama has none. (I’m unconvinced that running a senate office or a presidential campaign qualifies as executive experience.)

The more important question, however, is whether any of this matters?

We like to think that a president should have extensive experience. We scoff at the suggestion that the leader of the free world will need to “learn on the job.” Yet in order to address this all-too-common refrain, we need to step back and question its premise. As Jon puts it, “When has experience been a good predictor of presidential performance?”

In fact, it hasn’t. During the last presidential election, journalist Lawrence Kaplan pointed out the overlooked obvious:

[I]s it really necessary to point out that Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt never saw combat before going on to become America’s greatest wartime strategists? Or that the very men who dispatched Kerry to Vietnam were themselves decorated veterans? To be sure, politicians who have served in war have an essential understanding of the horrors of war. But what does it tell us about their strategic wisdom or their fitness to be commander-in-chief? In truth, very little.

Similarly, what about those who become politicians without any background in politics? Names like Michael Bloomberg, Jon Corzine and Arnold Schwarzenegger come to mind. And what about those without any executive experience? The only political qualification held by the current chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, before arriving in the Senate, was a two-year stint on his county council. His name is Joe Biden. Indeed, the last three presidents to be re-elected—Reagan, Clinton and Bush—all previously were governors without a national, legislative portfolio.

In a nutshell, experience is overrated.

Addendum (11/5/2009): Talk-radio host, Michael Medved, adds a moral (as opposed to practical) dimension to my argument: Judge the person, not the resume. In Medved’s words,

One of the most fundamental American values [is] the notion that each individual deserves to be judged on ability, not background, and evaluated on performance rather than credentials …  [We are] a nation that proudly offers fresh starts and open doors.