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The Myth of "Superior Executive Experience"

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Now that John McCain has chosen half-term Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate, the latest Republican mantra has become, that she has executive experience, while Barack Obama's experience is "merely" as a legislator. (Of course, the same could be said of John McCain, but they prefer not to take the argument that far.)
Republican Vin Weber spoke last night with David Gregory, on Race for the White House, on the superiority of Palin's "executive experience" vs. Obama's congressional experience:
"It's not the same as executive experience ... Sarah Palin has actually been a governor, she's had to deal with budgets; she's had to make decisions. It's qualitatively a different kind of experience, a better kind of experience."
But how superior is it, really? It may be comforting to think of the stereotype of the "tough" executive, decisively issuing orders that cannot be second-guessed. Similarly, it's tempting to think of legislative decision-making as somehow "wimpy" and passive, as it is shared with many others.
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But the truth is more complex than those stereotypes. While it is true than a state or municpality has only one executive, that executive is not a dictator. (And why would we want to elect a person with experience as a dictator anyhow?) You need look no further than the investigation of Governor Palin's alleged abused of power in "troopergate," to see that even executives have checks and balances in place.
Similarly, while Senators are one among many to vote for or against legislation, they alone are accountable for their votes, which are a matter of public record. And of course, they exert checks and balances on the executive decisions of the President, in their advise and consent role. And if you're concerned about experience with budgets, the rather substantial power that Congress wields with respect to appropriations would certainly qualify.
But beyond the issue of the degree to which decision making is shared, there are other aspects to governmental decision making that are important to take into accout. One factor is the number of people who are affected by an official's decisions. This is what James Carville was getting at, when he recently - on Larry King's show - held up a picture of the town hall of the Alaska town Palin was the mayor of. Estimates of the population of Wasilla, Alasksa vary, but they all are under 10,000.
Then there's the factor of the consequences of the decisions that are made. The consequences of the decisions of a mayor or a governor may depend upon the tumult of the times. Normally, they would concern the smooth operations of the city or state functions, hiring and firing employees, budget appropriations, enforcing state laws, and perhaps issuing stays of executions. However, it could be argued that the decisions of some governors in the civil rights era - such as Gov. George Wallace standing in the schoolhouse door, keeping African American students out - had tremendous consequences, requiring presidential action. On the other hand, it would be difficult to find mayoral or governmental decisions that have the gravity of congressional decisions regarding war and peace. 
Let's get beyond the false dichotomy of executive vs. legislative experience, and get back to the issues in this campaign that affect the lives of the American people.
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Amy Fried is the author of "Escaping Dick Cheney's Stomach." She received her Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior, and has been an advocate for church-state separation and other civil liberties issues. She writes on women's issues, media, veganism (more...)

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