Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Experience vs. Gender in the White House

With a title like that you'd think I had something interesting or useful to say about politics, right? Probably not, but you're welcome to read on if my inane babble doesn't offend.

With the Democrats finally settling on a candidate, I had hoped to see the party come together and unite behind the winner, regardless of who that winner was. And perhaps that is happening, but not completely and not quickly.

I've heard multiple interviews with supporters of Clinton saying they aren't sure about Obama, and some even saying they will support McCain instead. Excuse me? Doesn't that seem a bit like a Catholic deciding to opt for supporting the devil when he learns that Catholicism was wrong and Anglicanism is the one truth? No, perhaps not. I am given to hyperbole from time to time, but I still don't see how a Democrat can rationalize supporting McCain.

Obama supporters, of course, aren't faced with the same question. But one can easily imagine that the decision had gone the other way and Clinton was the party's choice. Isn't it easy to envision disgruntled Obama supporters deciding they couldn't support Clinton for a variety of reasons, none of which would be particularly compelling (to me, at least) when faced with the question "Who is your alternative?"

More directly related to the title of this post, I've also heard gripes from both sides of the Democratic divide about how one candidate or the other is better (or less well) suited to run the country. I'm simply not buying it. Neither side is persuasive to me on that front.

Thinking about Clinton, I've got no problem at all with putting a woman in charge, but I don't think that specifically being a woman makes one more qualified. It may change one's point of view on certain issues, but so does being from Alabama vs. California, or being Hispanic vs. Native American. This country still faces serious, gender related issues on a regular basis, and having a woman in office might affect the way some people see things, but I don't know that the decision about who to put into the white house should be based on gender.

Nor should it be based on race. I have no problem with electing a black to the office of President. I think it would be just fine to elect someone of any other ethnicity as well. As with the question of gender, though, I don't think race should be the defining issue in how we chose a candidate. Yes, electing a black president - if it happens - will be a milestone, but so would electing a woman, or an amputee, or a second generation Japanese immigrant.

To be honest, there haven't been that many presidents in our nation's history. Electing anyone other than a white male would basically be breaking new ground.

On the question of experience and the candidates, I am dubious about the value of experience in general. Firstly, since the office of president has been effectively term limited for quite some time now, the truth is that no president rules in a vacuum. The staff that comes in with a president is huge, and thus brings with it a collective of experience that far exceeds the president's own, even if he's as old as McCain.

In addition, I'm pretty sure there is a large and relatively constant staff that serves the executive branch of the government, and not all of it turns over with a new administration. Those people embody an even larger chunk of the collective knowledge and experience that makes up any administration, and they have to be counted upon for assistance.

No one person is qualified to run this nation on his or her own. It's really that simple. If the president is open to all sources of information - something the Bush administration is very bad about - and actually considers all options before making any major decisions, I'll probably be happy.

One of the problems with our system, however, is that to get elected our candidates wind up making promises to many different groups. When they get into office they may well be faced with breaking those promises in the face of real world situations, or keeping them despite their desire to do something different in a given situation. When campaign promises rule despite good evidence to the contrary, things are going poorly.

If I were dumb enough to run for office I would never make promises, even about things over which I have strong opinions. Almost everything has to be assessed in context, and a decision determined in advance - in the absence of the relevant facts at the time - could easily be the wrong thing to do when reality hits the fan. "Here's what I think about X right now..." is a fine thing to say, but not "If elected, I will do Y about X."

Of course I'd never get elected, and you can easily see why.

Anyway, I don't buy the Clinton camp's arguments about Obama's lack of experience. Nor do I buy arguments about gender or race being critical to the role of president. The next president - whoever he may be - needs to be president of the entire country, not just his party's members. I hope that comes to pass.