Friday, June 06, 2008

Obama's experience was right for Lincoln; and some advantages that the next President will have.

I will be leaving on vacation for a couple of weeks, so I'd like to bring up two (somewhat related topics) that I've been mulling over today.

The first is that McCain has said he wants to contrast his experience with Obama's relative inexperience. OK, ask Hillary Clinton how well that worked. However, one point that has been overlooked-- Obama's experience (lawyer, community activist, Illinois state legislator, four years in Washington) bears an uncanny resemblance to the experience that America's greatest President had, when he held the reigns of power during America's worst crisis. So to automatically assume that Obama is too inexperienced to be President is rebutted by historical fact.

I wrote a letter on the subject to the USA Today. Since I've had three letters published in that publication (the most recent was last year) my guess is that it won't be published. So I have no problem posting it here.

Dear Editor,

Barack Obama is running for President of the United States. He was a lawyer, active in his community, was in the Illinois state legislature for a few years and spent four years in Congress.

Which is exactly the same governmental experience as Abraham Lincoln had when he ran for President in 1860.

The real experience question is why anyone would think that the best way to solve problems that have been created in Washington is to elect someone who has spent decades in Washington, as John McCain has.

Eli Blake

The second is the observation that the next President will have a tremendous amount of political capital when he takes office. I predict this for three reasons:

1. The American people are tired of hyperpartisanship, which is why they nominated two candidates who talk about 'bringing people together' rather than some of the candidates who might have been more polarizing, such as Hillary Clinton or Mike Huckabee. That will not be lost on the next Congress.

2. The next President will be a sitting Senator (something that has not happened since 1960.) When governors are elected, a lot of times (in fact most of the time) they've made the mistake of talking down to Congress the way they are used to talking down to their state legislature, and Congress is always ready to deliver a reminder to the President of how limited his power is, especially if one or both houses of Congress are controlled by the opposition party. But these two candidates as members of the world's 'most exclusive club' know about how to package legislation and make deals, and certainly in the case of the Senate will already have the familiarity with individual Senators to be able to sit down and work something out in a way that former Governors have always had trouble with.

3. The next President being a Senator also means that the Senate will be unlikely to block whatever he wants in terms of legislation, treaty ratification or confirmation of appointments (including judicial appointments.) There is an old joke that a Presidential primary debate is the same thing as a Senate subcommittee hearing. That actually isn't too far off-- for some reason 'President-itis' seems especially to afflict members of the senior body. Just among today's 100 sitting Senators, I count fourteen who I've read at least one report of in the past few years as forming an exploratory committee or otherwise feeling out the prospect of running for President

(Bayh, Biden, Brownback, Clinton, Dodd, Feingold, Hagel, Harkin, Kennedy, Kerry, Lieberman, Lugar, McCain and Obama).

Obviously some have been more serious and/or successful at it than others.

This however is one out of seven members of the U.S. Senate. That's a significant number, and there are probably more who also have had visions of themselves sitting behind the President's desk, they just to date haven't voiced it out loud. These other would-be Presidents realize that this is the first time since 1960 that the voters are poised to send one of their number to the White House, so they have a vested interest in the President at least being somewhat successful, so as not to return the voters to the old mindset that Governors are better Presidential material.

For this reason this election is all the more important. We can expect that the next President will have some clear advantages in dealing with Congress that past Presidents have not had.


x4mr said...

Well said.

A litany of ironies are at work in this election as the first African American President faces the worst crisis since the greatest President in history faced the last worst crises, the very president who freed the race of the next president.

I could keep going.

God help us all.

Zach said...

I think one big difference between now and Lincoln's time is that I don't see a huge threat to America coming from within America right now. Yes, we have the Browns not paying their taxes, we have polygamists forcing marriage, but we don't have another Civil War brewing. If we have the next "worst crisis" during the next presidential term, it will relate to foreign affairs. So it makes sense that we would want a President who had some experience with foreign affairs.

Good second half of the post, though. None of those are things that I have thought of, but all are great points.

Anonymous said...

It's nice to know there are other liberal leaning mormon blogs. Check out for a female perspective

Anonymous said...

Eli, i saw this post at CHT several weeks ago. While it is true that Senator Obama has approximately the same amount of experience as an elected official as had Lincoln, it is impossible to claim a comparable amount of life/professional experience. Lincoln had a long track record as a successful attorney and had represented clients in landmark cases before the Illinois Supreme Court. Furthermore, he was instrumental in the founding of the Republican Party in the late 1850's and was perhaps its most eloquent spokesman in those early years. And while Senator Obama is inarguably eloquent, he is doing little more than wrapping boilerplate liberal ideology in new sounding rhetoric. Thus, I think you would agree there are many differences between the two as well.

Btw, I lived in a home for several years that was built on what had once been a part of the estate of Henry Curtis, in whose home the Republican Party had its genesis. The original mansion is not in very good repair these days, though some of Henry C's descendants still live on the property.