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Like most Democrats, I'm an enormous fan of Barack Obama. I want him to be President. But I don't think Obama should run in 2008. Adam's right in that race is more an asset than a liability for Obama. However, I have a few problems with his argument about age, and completely disagree with his argument about experience. Finally, Adam leaves something important out of the equation: opposition.

Let's start with the section on age. Obama is definitely not physically too young to be president. However, in politics, actual age matters a lot less than perception of age. Kennedy was a young president, Clinton was not. The three years didn't make a difference; Kennedy was just "youthful." Similarly, Edwards was a young candidate. It doesn't matter at all that he was 51; the same youthful good looks that made certain people on the GUCD board fall head over heels for Edwards made sure that everyone saw him as a young guy. Of course, a good campaign can define the candidate as whatever age it wants to, but it takes a considerable amount of effort to redefine a "young" candidate as "seasoned." With that said, Obama's age is not an insurmountable obstacle, and with some effort, he can make his youth work for him strategically. However, it's not the non-issue Adam makes it out to be.

Next, let's talk about experience. The past presidents section is nice, but by only counting raw time as an elected official, it's missing a lot. I'll go through these guys one by one:

Wilson: Sure, he won election after being governor for only two years... with less than 42% of the vote. Wilson had the distinction of facing not one, but two serious Republican contenders for President. I'm sure Obama would win if, say, McCain and Frist both ran in the general election. Too bad that's not going to happen. Also, Wilson was a governor, and as we all know, being a governor is a lot better than being a senator if you want to win an election for President. There's a world of difference between being one of 100 legislators and being an executive, not to mention the contradictory morass you generally have to get yourself into in order to be an effective senator. This is going to be a recurring theme.

FDR: Adam left out his seven years of experience in the cabinet as Assistant Secretary of the Navy. Think that's a trivial post? It had already propelled Theodore to the vice-presidency three decades earlier. Additionally, like Wilson, FDR was a governor. FDR was elected twice (though he only completed one term), while Obama's been elected once (and wouldn't even complete that if he won in '08). FDR had also already been the (unsuccessful) Democratic vice-presidential candidate, which I hear is pretty good for name recognition. Finally, FDR was a Roosevelt. Family ties shouldn't count in a theoretical democracy, but in the real world, they do.
Eisenhower: Ridiculous comparison. Sure, he had no elected experience, but to paraphrase Ron Burguny, Supreme Allied Commander in WWII is kind of a big deal.
Carter: Ultimate outsider in a time of ultimate scandal. Yes, he didn't have much experience, but he came in the wake of Watergate. To add insult to injury, Ford was a terrible candidate (hey guys, let's pardon Nixon!), having barely won the nomination even though he was a sitting VP. And Carter managed to drop from a 30 point lead after the convention to a 2 point victory margin. I admire Carter, but things were just right for him to win a general election. Plus, as a governor, Carter got to be both an outsider and an executive; Obama has neither advantage.
Reagan: Like you said, eight years as governor. That's twice as long as Obama will have been a statewide elected official. And, governor. And, the largest state in America.
Bush 43: I'll put my revulsion aside to try and give an objective analysis of why his experience managed to get him elected. He was governor of a large state, and he won two terms (see: Reagan). Six years is inexperienced, but again, Obama will only have four. Also, he ran an outsider campaign (see: Carter). One of the advantages of inexperience is that you can be less entrenched, but that's much, much harder to do as a senator. Finally, he's a Bush (see: FDR).
Ultimately, only Wilson and Carter have as little experience as Obama will, and both were elected during exceptional circumstances that probably won't repeat themselves in 2008. And I can't stress this enough-- both were governors. Think about common perceptions of governors and senators: running a state vs. sitting in an ineffective body that talks all day. Being a governor is just a better qualification, and it can make up for not having been a senator for x number of years.
Finally, opposition. Remember that Obama basically got handed his senate seat; his last-ditch opponent was, shall we say, insane. Yes, he's a spectacular candidate and he would have won anyway, but he didn't have a serious campaign waged against him. Nobody's spent millions dollars to define him as a flip-flopping liberal, tax-and-spend liberal, weak-on-defense liberal, Massachussetts liberal, San Francisco liberal, or flaming liberal homosexual. Sure, these are all false, but if Republicans know how to do anything, they know how to find a negative label that sticks (see: 2000, 2004 campaigns.) Obama won't be the immaculate golden boy forever; huge negative ad buys and concentrated attack campaigns do take their toll.
I want to see President Obama as much as Adam does, but Charlie Cook made a great point when he said that Obama gets one chance. If he loses, regardless of why he loses, people will think America won't elect an African American president, and won't try again for decades. In 2012, or 2016, Obama could be an unstoppable dream candidate. But do we want to risk the Obama presidency on shooting the moon in 2008? Maybe things will change, but right now the answer looking like a firm no.


Rach C said...

Hey, hey, hey!! "Certain people on the GUCD board"?! That was uncalled for. Just because I want to jump his bones doesn't mean I don't have other, completely legitimate reasons for wanting John Edwards as president. His southern charm and youthful good looks are just a side benefit. ;)