Experience

EXPERIENCE….Riffing off Scott Lemieux, Matt Yglesias takes a pot shot at Hillary Clinton’s claim to be the “experienced” candidate:

If you win a primary on an “experience” argument, then you’d damn well better be more experienced than your general election opponent. McCain would make an experience argument against either opponent, so it’s much better to be the opponent with a record of statements aimed at rebutting such arguments (I don’t think the American people judge your qualification based on duration of service in a broken Washington system…) than to be the opponent who’s been making the argument that voters need to stick with the more seasoned Washington hand.

This obviously gets into the realm of pure spin since “experience” is such an amorphous quality, but I really think that Obama partisans are missing the point here. Like it or not, most voters have a sort of vague operational view of experience that means something like “involvement in big league politics.” And on that score, Hillary gets 15 years: 8 years as an activist first lady and 7 years as U.S. senator. Obama, conversely, gets a total of 3 years as U.S. senator. It may seem unfair that his eight years in the Illinois legislature don’t count, but for most people they just don’t. Being a backbench state legislator just isn’t big league politics.

Seen through this lens, the problem with Obama isn’t that he’s less experienced than Hillary, but that he’s inexperienced, full stop. And again, like it or not, John McCain will certainly use that as an argument in the general election campaign in a way he couldn’t against Hillary. Sure, he’s got 25 years to her 15, but that doesn’t matter. Beyond a certain point voters aren’t interested in who’s got more experience, and 15 years is well beyond that point. If McCain tried to paint Hillary as inexperienced, it would be a waste of breath. Nobody would buy it.

When I decided to vote for Obama in the primary I said I had decided it was worth it to roll the dice. But make no mistake: there really is a roll of the dice here. The American public hasn’t elected someone with as little big-time experience as Obama in the past century (though we’ve come close with Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush). I don’t think that will keep him from winning in November, but it’s pretty clearly a real issue.