The 'Experience' Canard

Palin and the 'Experience' Canard


When Coolidge was named to Warren Harding's ticket in 1920, he had been governor of Massachusetts for less than two years. Aside from a largely powerless stint as lieutenant governor and other smaller legislative posts, his chief previous government experience was as mayor of Northampton, to which he was first elected in 1910 by a Wasilla-like margin of 1,597 to 1,409.

Another year-and-a-half governor to be nominated for the vice presidency: Teddy Roosevelt. It's true that TR, as a former assistant secretary of the Navy, had more foreign policy experience than Mrs. Palin, though one wonders what today we would make of a candidate whose proud boast was that he had killed an enemy soldier "like a jackrabbit."

Then there is Harry Truman, to whom Mrs. Palin compared herself at the Republican convention. "He had only to open his mouth and his origins were plain," wrote David McCullough in his biography of the 33rd president, in lines that might also have been written about Mrs. Palin. "It wasn't just that he came from a particular part of the country, geographically, but from a specific part of the American experience, an authentic pioneer background, and a specific place in the American imagination."

The Truman comparison seems especially to rankle Mrs. Palin's critics, perhaps because in many respects it rings true. Take vetting. John McCain may have met Mrs. Palin only once before he offered her the job, but Franklin Roosevelt admitted "I hardly know Truman" in July 1944, the same month the "Senator from Pendergast" was put on the Democratic ticket.

Or take foreign policy experience. It's fair to say that Mrs. Palin has none, and the McCain campaign should drop the transparent pretense that Alaska's proximity to Russia, or her nominal responsibility for the state's National Guard, gives her some.

Then again, what did Truman know? "Truman had no experience in relations with Britain or Russia, no firsthand knowledge of Churchill or Stalin," writes Mr. McCullough. "He didn't know his own Secretary of State, more than to say hello. . . . Roosevelt, Truman would tell [daughter] Margaret privately, 'never did talk to me confidentially about the war, or about foreign affairs or what he had in mind for peace after the war.' He was unprepared, bewildered."

Truman, it's true, had served bravely as an army captain in World War I; he knew the nature of war. But his chief recommendation as a U.S. senator was as a good-government type who bucked his home state's machine politics (though not so frontally as Mrs. Palin bucked hers) and fought waste, fraud and corruption in military spending.

Comment: New word (for me): "panjandrum"

If nothing else, the media meltdown over Sarah Palin's candidacy for the vice presidency has exposed the not-unsuspected truth that, when it comes to historical ignorance and political amnesia, our cultural panjandrums are in a class by themselves.


  1. It is as if ten years spent doing the wrong thing counts more than six weeks doing what's right.

  2. Re: "It is as if ten years spent doing the wrong thing counts more than six weeks doing what's right."

    Bert ... I think that sums it up succinctly!

  3. I personally care more about the views and beliefs of each candidate more than the experience, which seems to be the overriding point of debate in this case. Personally, I'd rather have someone with more conservative views, such as Palin, even if she had LESS experience, than a complete socialist like Obama. I am from the USA and am used to more of a freer society than a socialistic one. Maybe if I had grown up in Scandinavia I would be more open to Socialism since I would have been used to it, but even many wealthy Swedes and Norwegians leave the country because of the repressive taxes.

    But back to experience, isn't this all a sham anyway? Being a president or vice-president isn't exactly like being a city council member in a very small town. These people have so many people behind the scenes as advisors that every move is calculated to the nth degree by the elite Eastern Establishment who really are the power behind the scenes, no matter the party.


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