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Note: I'm the author of Barack Obama: This Improbable Quest, but I'm not part of the Obama campaign.

Nothing has harmed Barack Obama's candidacy for president more than the perception that he is inexperienced. An August poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press found that "personal abilities and experience" was the biggest cause for concern by voters about Obama, much more than his stands on issues. Among those who support Obama, but only weakly, 43% were most troubled by Obama's experience. By contrast, only 8% of John McCain supporters were most troubled by his experience.

However, there are two problems with the attack on Obama's inexperience: it isn't true, and it doesn't matter.

Yet a campaign of misinformation has greatly exaggerated Obama's alleged inexperience. Fred Thompson's Sept. 2 speech to the Republican National Convention proclaimed that Obama is "most inexperienced nominee to ever run for President." The next night, Rudy Giuliani repeated the accusation about Obama: "He is the least experienced candidate for president of the United States in at least the last 100 years." Giuliani and Thompson seem to be conveniently forgetting that George W. Bush in 2000 had served only six years as governor, far fewer years of experience as an elected public official than Obama's 12 years of experience (eight as state senator, four as US senator). Nor did they seem to care that McCain's Vice Presidential pick, Sarah Palin, has only two years of experience as governor of Alaska.

Obama's experience in state and national politics also exceeds that of Ronald Reagan (eight years as governor), Jimmy Carter (four years in state senate, four years as governor), Dwight Eisenhower (no political experience), and Harry Truman (10 years as US senator, one year as vice president). In fact, Obama's total political experience exceeds Thompson's eight lackluster years as a senator or Giuliani's two terms as mayor of New York City, which they felt made them qualified to be president.

I did a quick study of presidential experience (see the results here) and discovered that out of 42 presidents, only 20 had more experience as an elected public official than Obama does now. Only 22 presidents had more experience than Obama as an elected official in Washington, D.C. In terms of his experience, Obama would be a typical president. Yet you won't find anyone in the media reporting on the fact that Obama has more foreign policy experience than four out of the last five presidents.

However, even if Obama were inexperienced, that would be no reason to vote against him. History shows us that an experienced politician usually makes for a lousy president. In fact, the most consistent variable to predict a failed presidency is experience.

The Wall Street Journal and the right-wing Federalist Society in 2005 surveyed an "ideologically balanced" group of 130 prominent professors to rank the best and worst presidents. Out of the top 10 presidents, ranked as great and near great, only three had more experience as an elected political official (or more experience in Congress) than Obama does now. Out of the five worst presidents ranked as failures, all of them had more experience than Obama.

Of course, not every inexperienced president is a good one. George W. Bush is definitive proof of that. However, experience may also be part of the explanation for Bush's failures. Bush was so inexperienced, particularly on foreign affairs, that he turned to Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to make key decisions. Cheney and Rumsfeld are among the most experienced figures ever to hold their positions, and like the failed presidents of great experience before them, they came up with some of the most disastrous policies in recent memory.

Obama, who has far more experience on foreign affairs than Bush thanks to four years on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and visits to 17 countries, is unlikely to be captive to the views of his running mate Joe Biden.

Why does experience harm presidential judgment? One reason is that experienced public officials tends to be set in their ways, and unwilling to challenge the status quo of which they are a part. Politicians with less experience are not tied to the political establishment and are more willing to implement change, which is an essential component of presidential greatness.

That certainly describes the 2008 election. Obama's depth and breadth of experience, both as an elected official and as a citizen committed to public service, far exceeds the norm for a president. It's time to stop talking about experience, and start talking about the issues that matter to the voters.

Crossposted at ObamaPolitics and OpedNews.

Originally posted to JohnKWilson on Mon Oct 06, 2008 at 06:10 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  You just saved me a ton of time - thanks! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    oslo, Pandoras Box
    I have been looking for this exact info to refute this meme.  I think I'll just print this and make a few copies to keep on me the next 30 days.  Great job!

    My signature has been suspended so it can go to DC and silently sit while the other guys deal with the economic crisis.

    by cowgirl on Mon Oct 06, 2008 at 06:21:19 PM PDT

  •  My school tomorrow (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Temmoku, Pandoras Box

    Not to add something lacking of substance but I recognized that you are actually going to be in my dorm tomorrow (University of Illinois, Allen Hall) to talk to us before the debates.

  •  Quality and Quantity: Beyond the legislative (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Temmoku, ge0rge

    Looking at the totality of the man, from president of Harvard Law Review to Constitutional Law professor to Civil Rights lawyer to brilliant author (no need for ghost writers), to organizing the most successful campaign in US history singlehandedly crushing the fat-cat infiltation into democracy, the man has the gravitas that Phony McCain can only dream about.

    A footnote:  At the White House bailout meeting imposed by narcissist McCain for his photo-op, it was Obama who took charge while McCain sat like a lump for the whole meeting.  It was Obama who had to coax participation out of clueless John.

  •  People are astonished when I tell them.... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Temmoku, HeadnHeart

    ...that he served eight years as an Illinois state senator with a  district with more people in it than all of Alaska.

    And that he is on so many Senate Committees, including Foreign Relations, Veterans Affairs, and Homeland Security.

    And that he has originated or cosponsored more than 150 bills in the U.S. Senate, and worked with other senators on many, many more.

    People have been led to believe that he organized a few neighborhoods and joined the U.S. Senate day before yesterday. Incredible.  

  •  The repubs leave out his 8 years in state govt (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    and make it sound like he went from community organizer to US senator.  

    I have felt this for a long time too.  Bush, actually both of them, being  incumbents, technically had the most experience for being president when running for their second terms.  A lot of good it did us the last four years.

    Prayin' for a pipeline

    by kerflooey on Mon Oct 06, 2008 at 06:27:59 PM PDT

  •  This is stretching (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Obviously, a lot of people think that state senator is just too rinky-dink
    an office to count.   Your experience should at least be from a statewide
    office, specifically, Senator or Governor.  Or Vice President.  Those are
    THE ONLY three offices that count.  THE ONLY people elected President
    in the last 90 years who didn't have one of these 3 (Senator, Governor,
    or Vice President) were Herbert Hoover and Dwight Eisenhower.
    Hoover had been Sec. of Commerce for 7 years and had also managed
    large bureaucracies (not just nationwide, but WORLDwide) for providing
    famine relief after wars.  Eisenhower obviously also had managed a very
    large federal organization (the Army).    So the point is, even being
    a Congressman for the last umpteen years (like Dennis Kucinich and
    Barney Frank), even though it is a federal office, is generally seen as
    NOT counting because you only got elected by 600K people (and 200K voters)
    and never had to manage anything as broad as a state, or a world relief
    effort, or a national army.

    "You can't nice these people to death."-- John Edwards

    by ge0rge on Mon Oct 06, 2008 at 06:28:40 PM PDT

    •  I guess you must be completely unfamiliar (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Temmoku, Lauren S

      with Obama's record in the Illinois Senate.

      By your standard, that makes Palin unqualified, since it would exclude her stint as mayor, as well as her brief governorship given how few people voted for her.

      Plain/McCain - thanks, but no thanks.

      by skrekk on Mon Oct 06, 2008 at 06:52:57 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  ge0rge is full of shit as usual (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        •  You can't JUST SAY (0+ / 0-)

          "you're full of shit".  You have to actually quote
          something that the person said that was false.
          You have to be able to back it up.
          Unless, of course, your target is simply unpopular.
          If you REALLY thought it was "shit", then why didn't you just
          HR it?   No point in leaving it around here to stink up the
          joint in THAT case.

          "You can't nice these people to death."-- John Edwards

          by ge0rge on Tue Oct 07, 2008 at 11:06:13 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  I guess you must therefore be unfamiliar (0+ / 0-)

        It doesn't matter (devil's advocate) how good ANYbody's
        record in the state senate is.  It's still JUST  a state senator.
        I guess you must be completely unfamiliar (I repeat) with
        the resume's of EVERYBODY WHO EVER got elected President
        since LINCOLN.   NOBODY HAS EVER  been this short.

        Of course, being black myself, I  would be GLAD to think of
        Obama as the next Lincoln.  The other side of course wants
        him to be the next Adlai Stevenson.

        The real issue, for Obama, though, ISN'T experience:
        it's intelligence.  This is a quality OVER quantity issue.
        He was Editor of the Harvard Law Review.
        If people weren't (entirely wrongly) suspicious that
        affirmative action had something to do with that,
        nobody would be even bringing up experience at all;
        people would just know that the main reason he rose
        this far this fast is because he's brilliant.

        "You can't nice these people to death."-- John Edwards

        by ge0rge on Tue Oct 07, 2008 at 11:04:21 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Did you even read the diary? (0+ / 0-)

          NOBODY HAS EVER  been this short.

          A comparison of Obama's experience to that of other Presidents is made in the diary, and Obama is right in the middle.

          Plain/McCain - thanks, but no thanks.

          by skrekk on Tue Oct 07, 2008 at 12:52:43 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Obama IS NOT in the middle (0+ / 0-)

            Yes, I read the diary.
            Did you even read my response?
            The diary gets to the middle by counting state
            legislative experience.  That, precisely as I said,
            IS STRETCHING.  By standard standards, state legislative experience DOES NOT COUNT AT ALL.

            "You can't nice these people to death."-- John Edwards

            by ge0rge on Wed Oct 08, 2008 at 08:59:15 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  It's worse than "stretching", arguably (0+ / 0-)

            I did a quick study of presidential experience (see the results here) and discovered that out of 42 presidents, only 20 had more experience as an elected public official than Obama does now. Only 22 presidents had more experience than Obama as an elected official in Washington, D.C.

            This seems entirely cacluated AFTER the fact to produce the desired impression.  GOVERNOR COUNTS.
            It is NOT in Washington DC.  This metric counts years in the US House -- WHICH DON'T count -- and zeroes out years as governor -- WHICH DO count.

            "You can't nice these people to death."-- John Edwards

            by ge0rge on Wed Oct 08, 2008 at 09:02:11 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  Middle-aged so-called "Independent" male voters (0+ / 0-)

    threw out the "Obama's inexperienced" card when I canvassed this past weekend. Thanks for giving me a few more talking points.  A lot of people don't know about the depth and foundation Obama gained from his community service experience. I was sickened about how the upper middle-class have no concept or care about poverty or suffering. It's all me, me, me, and taxes. In the 2004 election, the Kerry Campaing sent us to poor, minority neighborhoods, where we were warmly recieved.  Obama's campaign has all bases covered in NC; so I had the experience of canvassing for data amongst the "haves".

    John McCain wants to conduct 100-year occupation of women's uteruses

    by oslo on Mon Oct 06, 2008 at 06:51:33 PM PDT

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