Tag Archives: joe biden

McCain, Obama, and the Experience Battle

Obama’s choice of Joe Biden as his running mate seems, at least in part, to be a concession to McCain. The most immediate justifications for this choice appear to be the most pertinent: Biden was chosen for his extensive foreign policy experience as the three time chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and, on a broader scale, simply for his experience. But on a deeper level, the concession is to the enduring idea of “experience” itself.

This idea has been the overriding theme of the presidential race so far. Hillary Clinton insisted that she had more of it than Obama, though how she would have changed her tack when facing McCain, had she claimed the Democratic presidential nomination, is anybody’s guess. She clearly favours Obama over McCain: assuming this is genuine (and, despite the nature of party politics there is no reason not to think so), this is a tacit acknowledgement that experience is not the be all and end all, and that intellect and ideas are important after all.

McCain insists that he has more experience than Obama, but the question is, how important is experience in and of itself? Obama must have reflected on this pickle himself, and concluded that it wasn’t very much, except as a useful disarming tool; but it would be impolitic of him to express this publicly as he would draw jeers of “elitism” from the hungry media crowds. To take a hypothetical example: imagine an unintelligent person who is born into a privileged family with political connections, which he uses to embark upon a mildly successful political career. During the course of this career, he meets many politicians, engages in many debates, sees what goes on behind the scenes, becomes suitably cynical, and is able to put on a good political mask. By any standard, he would have had a lot of experience. But would this mean anything? He is unintelligent, and therefore gleans very little of substance from all these things. Of course, in this extreme example, experience would be meaningless.

McCain is not this hypothetical example. But he claims to be a man of experience, and a man of substance. It seems to me, that if one truly is a man of substance, one should not keep reminding others that one is a man of experience. It is little more than an insecurity smokescreen. A true man of substance would not have to consciously describe himself as anything, but would let his policies and his actions be the true narrator. It is also a cynical tactic that, far from showing his sincerity, tends actually to show his falsity, and his desperation. Knowing that his experience is a selling point to many Americans, it is a mere word he has to use, an advertising jingle. Therefore it is also an insult to the electorate. Can they not judge for themselves the extent, nature, and importance of his experience without constant reminders?

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