Palin vs. Obama

I'm getting a lot of email grief for writing: "There's a not-implausible case to be made that Sarah Palin has more experience than ... Barack Obama!" And maybe rightly so - blog in haste, repent at leisure. At the very least, there's no question that Barack Obama has spent more time preparing for high office than Sarah Palin: He's been prepping himself for a race like this since he first entered politics, in some sense, and he's just endured the rigors of a long Presidential campaign - which forces you, as Ezra rightly notes, to get up to speed on a host of issues that most state-level politicians don't spend very much time thinking about. So what was I thinking when I wrote the line above? Just this: That in terms of actual governance, as opposed to the mix of issue-studying and campaigning that Obama's been immersed in, Palin's resume and Obama's aren't wildly dissimilar. She ran her first race in 1992; he ran his first race in 1997. She was a city councilor for four years, then a mayor, lost a race for statewide office in 2002 then won the governorship in 2006. He was a state senator from Chicago for seven years, lost a House race in 2000, and then won the Illinois Senate race in 2004. The argument for her having more experience, then, would be relatively simple: She's been in government five years longer than Obama, and has twelve years of executive experience to his zero.

But yes, there's more than a touch of sophistry to this line of reasoning. I think you can take the argument that running a successful Presidential campaign qualifies you to be President too far, but where the Obama-Palin comparison is concerned, David Frum's point is obviously well-taken:

Yes, if I had been a Democratic donor back in 2006, I'd sure worry about whether Barack Obama had what it took to be president. That was before he took on the toughest political operation in America, before he beat Bill and Hillary Clinton, before he won 18 million primary votes.

Obama's nomination was not handed to him. He fought hard for it and won against the odds. "Qualifications" predict achievement. Once you have achieved, it doesn't matter what your qualifications are. Who cares whether the guy who built a big company from nothing didn't have much of a resume when he started? But if you are applying to run a big company built by somebody else, the resume matters ...

So let's concede the resume war to Obama. Then the question, going forward, is twofold: First, to what extent can Palin demonstrate that she's capable of closing the preparedness gap and the experience gap, by getting up to speed on a host of issues in a very short time and proving herself a capable actor on the national stage? (If she can't, her candidacy will rapidly turn into a joke, and McCain will have sacrificed one of his party's rising stars on the altar of his own ambitions.) Second, does the fact that McCain has "violate[d] the contemporary understanding of the role of the Vice Presidency," as Yglesias notes, by picking a leader-in-training rather than an experienced hand, undercut his argument that experience matters at the top of the ticket? My first instinct, as yesterday's post suggested, was that it doesn't - that if you're an old Washington hand yourself, you can afford to pick an understudy and groom them in office; that voters care vastly more about the President's experience than his running mate's qualifications; and that the more Democrats call attention to inexperience at the bottom of the GOP ticket, the more voters will find themselves thinking about the inexperience at the top of the Dem ticket.  But it's quite possible that I'm overly influenced by the blaseness that comes with never having seen a President die in office or resign from it during my lifetime, and that my comfort with the idea of filling the veep slot with a talented young politician who needs to learn on the job isn't (and shouldn't be) shared by the voting public.