Thursday, January 10, 2008

Experience

On December 16, I proposed a ranking of the Democratic candidates. Excluding the corporate and corporate-friendly (NPR) media’s non-persons, Mike Gravel and Dennis Kucinich, I maintained that Bill Richardson was the second best of the lot (after John Edwards), if for no other reason that that he had the best position on getting out of Iraq. [I also wrote that Chris Dodd, now out of the race, was a close third.] Now it looks like Richardson will be dropping out too. It’s too bad. Will Edwards follow? After New Hampshire, the media are more busy than usual ignoring his campaign. That’s bound to dry up the money flow – the life’s blood of American “democracy.” Maybe he’ll keep going; maybe, as I suggested yesterday, he can be the last man standing. But it’s unlikely. In this primary season, as in a broth or stew, the scum rises to the top.

In the last New Hampshire debate, when it looked like Obama might blow Hillary out of the water, and when mindless talk of “change” was all the flutter, Richardson made a memorable comment. He said something like – talk of “change” is fine, but what happened to experience? “Is experience a leper”?, he asked. It’s a question worth pondering now that the Democratic contest seems to be morphing into a contest between experience (Clinton) and charisma (Obama).

Charisma without substance is blind and meaningless, but Hillary’s “experience” is a joke. She was Bill Clinton’s official wife. No doubt, she stuck her nose into places where she had no business – always on the wrong side, as for example, in arguing for leveling Belgrade. But, in the final analysis, she was a First Lady; nothing more. What kind of experience is that? First Lady Laura Bush is a far less unpleasant character than any of the Republican candidates, but does anybody think she should be President in virtue of her proximity to the Bush boy? Or Babs Bush, the Silver Fox? She was not only a First Lady but a First Mother too. For that matter, what about the Lady Gipper? Mysteriously, her husband is still first in the hearts of Republicans. The Clintons seem to like him too; they’ve certainly missed no opportunity to boost that sorry actor’s image. Why not nominate her? My point should be clear, but just in case it isn’t, lets go back to the Clintons’ formative years. The Eisenhower days seem to have had quite an impact on their politics, after all.

Actually, it’s unfair to liken Ike’s presidency to Clinton’s. Yes, Clinton was better on race, but he also came along forty years later -- after, not before, the civil rights movement. Even on that count, though, Ike did send troops to enforce school desegregation in Little Rock. Clinton never did anything so bold. But on everything but race, Ike bests Bill (and, if she want to take partial credit, Hillary) hands down. He maintained the New Deal; the Clintons did their best to tear it down. He built infrastructure (including the inter-state highway system) and funded education; the Clintons let it all languish. Ike presided over a far more egalitarian capitalism. He had a good sense of the limits of American power too. He was also the last American President not to be led around by the nose by the Israelis. Still, in its fiscal conservatism, its lack of fresh initiatives, its unresponsiveness to the problems of the poor, the Clinton Presidency was more like Ike’s than any other. So why, instead of Nixon, didn’t Mamie run for President? It couldn’t have turned out worse. Mamie was an old-fashioned woman, of course, but she was probably closer to Ike than Hillary is to Bill. [That may have had something to do with the fact that Ike was less of a philanderer.] By the logic that makes Hillary experienced, Mamie was experienced too. By that logic, she, unlike Hillary, would make an outstanding peace maker (Korea) and a preeminent wartime leader. Just compare what she must have picked up sleeping with the Supreme Commander of the European theater in World War II with what Hillary learned bedding down with somebody whose didn’t inhale while remaining “viable within the system.” Needless to say, this line of reasoning is ridiculous. But so is the case for “experience” that the Clinton campaign, and their media allies, have planted so firmly in the collective consciousness of Democratic voters.