On the McCain Report, Michael Goldfarb writes that Sarah Palin “has more executive experience than Barack Obama and Joe Biden put together”, a point that, by some strange coincidence, has popped up all over the conservative blogs. I think that the idea that Palin has an advantage over Obama in this area is completely wrong.
When this campaign started, one of my biggest questions about Barack Obama was whether he would be any good at managing things. The President is, after all, the head of a very large organization, and he had better either have good management skills or hire a chief of staff who does. The fact that I didn’t know whether Obama had them didn’t prevent me from voting for him — none of the other candidates I might have supported had a track record in management either — but I would have been happier had I known whether Obama was any good at running things.
I don’t have that problem any more. Obama has spent the past year and a half running a large organization — as of last December, it had “about 500 employees and a budget of $100 million” — and running it very well. It’s not just that he and his team beat the Clinton campaign, which started out with enormous advantages. It’s not even that he often did so by building effective political machines from scratch in states in which Clinton had locked down the political establishment. It’s that every account of the Obama campaign that I’ve read makes it clear that he has done an outstanding job of constructing and running a political organization. For instance, this account of Obama’s campaign is very much worth reading, if you want to get a sense of how he runs things:
“The story of how Obama assembled his top advisers â€” and how he got them to work together as a team â€” offers a glimpse into his approach as a chief executive who manages an organization of nearly 1,000 employees. Obama has built “an amazingly strong machine,” says Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, president of the Chief Executive Leadership Institute at the Yale School of Management. “People expected a more ad hoc, impromptu, entrepreneurial feel to it. It has been more of a well-orchestrated symphony than the jazz combo we expected.”
Indeed, in merging the talents of powerful Washington insiders and outside-the-Beltway insurgents, Obama has succeeded at a task that has traditionally eluded Democratic candidates: forging an experienced inner circle who set aside their differences and put the candidate first. “The whole point is that it’s not about any of these guys,” says longtime GOP strategist Frank Luntz. “They feel blessed. They see it as how lucky they are to be working for this man, at this time, in this election. This is the dream team for the dream candidate. I waited all my life for a Republican Barack Obama. Now he shows up, and he’s a Democrat.””
Executive ability is not the most important thing in the world. (For one thing, hiring a good chief of staff goes a long way towards making up any deficiencies you have as a manager.) But it does matter. At the beginning of this campaign, I don’t think anyone knew whether Barack Obama would be any good at running things. Now, however, we do.