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The Inexperience Knock may be a Bigger Hazard than Race to Obama

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The obsessive talk still is that race might wreck close-to-presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama's slog to the White House. Race is a hazard to Obama. But the even greater hazard is the knock that Obama simply is to green, too untested, and too soft to be a firm, and resolute commander in chief. Months before Bush hinted at it, and McCain attacked him on this point, the Republican National Committee shoved the inexperience rap to the front of the its keep the White House playbook. At its midwinter parlay in February, the RNC made inexperience point number five on the Obama hit list. Race was nowhere on the list of attack points. Obama backers parry the attack by turning the table and proclaiming that his lack of national and especially international experience is a positive. That he'll bring fresh ideas and approaches to statecraft that replace the old, tired, and failed polices of recent times. The more exuberant turn the table again and say that his tenure on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the Veterans Affairs Committee, and Homeland Security, make him even more experienced than Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan. Bill Clinton, George Bush, Jr. when they took office. There's faint truth to that, but only if the issue is foreign policy experience. With the exception of Carter, Reagan, Clinton, and Bush were all successful two term governors with much executive and administrative experience. Obama doesn't have that. Yet, as presidents they still made disastrous and costly foreign policy blunders. But even if they hadn't stumbled over a crisis or two, this still wouldn't cancel out the perception among legions of voters that Obama is too inexperienced for the job. A Pew Research Poll Center Poll in early May found that "inspiring," " fresh," "change," and "visionary" was not the one word that voters said best described Obama. The one word was "inexperienced". This can't be cavalierly shrugged off as a desperate campaign slur by the GOP, or as a code word that closet bigoted whites latch onto as an excuse not to vote for him. And it's definitely not a meaningless and overblown measure of a candidate's competence and effectiveness in the White House. The inexperience rap has hurt Democrats once in the White House. It hurt JFK with his Bay of Pigs bungle and his initial waffle on the Cuban Missile crisis. It hurt Carter with his hopelessly botched Iran hostage rescue attempt. It hurt Democratic presidential candidate Gary Hart in 1984 against Democrat Walter Mondale. Hart, like Obama, was seen as the change guy who could move the country in a new direction. That is until Mondale pounded him in a televised debate and on the campaign trail that his ideas and plans were just too fuzzy for Democrats to take a chance on in tossing the nomination to him. That helped sink Hart's nomination fight. The inexperience tag is a politically perilous one for a good reason.Many voters really believe that the American presidency is and should not be an OJT position. They aren't willing to make a leap of faith that an untested candidate can smoothly and effortlessly handle crisis situations that inevitably arise. The reality is that inexperienced presidents often make poor crisis managers. They have gotten the country into costly and unpopular wars and brush fire conflicts. They alienate foreign friends and allies. They bungle the economy. And their administrations more times than not are riddled with corruption and cronyism. The disastrous proof is the administration of the man that Obama seeks to replace. Even without fingering Bush's foreign and domestic policy bumbles and ineptitude, the presidents that have been most successful in recent decades have been FDR, Clinton and Dwight Eisenhower. They had two things in common. They had extensive executive and administrative experience either as governors, or in the case of Eisenhower, in the armed forces before they became president. Even before McCain snatched at the inexperience buzz word against Obama, Hillary Clinton grabbed at it to imprint the notion in voter's mind that she is the best Democratic presidential candidate to handle the inevitable crises that saddle all administrations. Her play of the inexperience card against Obama may not have gotten her any more votes, but it served to remind that Obama will be a question mark in the White House. The lack of administrative and crisis management experience shouldn't disqualify a prospective presidential candidate, or mean that he will implode under fire. This holds true for Obama just as it did with other presidents who took office with a paper thin resume on foreign policy experience. Yet, it's an issue that will dog Obama every step of the way on the campaign trail. McCain and the GOP will see to it. Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House (Middle Passage Press, February 2008). Ethnicpresidency.com
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Earl Ofari Hutchinson is a nationally acclaimed author and political analyst. He has authored ten books; his articles are published in newspapers and magazines nationally in the United States. Three of his books have been published in other (more...)
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