Monday, April 14, 2008

experience, part deux

Commenter Brian makes a good point, what about domestic experience. Usually when the punditry talk about "experience," the words foreign policy are usually either prefixed or implied. Rarely when people talked about Obama's "inexperience" did they mean he doesn't know (for example) the difference between Medicare and Medicaid. Still, there are far more experiences that would prepare one for the domestic responsibilities of being president than ones for the role of Commander-in-Chief and other foreign policy roles.

Governors and Mayors who have to work with their legislative bodies to get stuff done have a great deal of experience in a large part of being president--trying to pass your (mostly domestic) legislative agenda. Notice I didn't offset part of the sentence with commas. And for good reason. Governors and Mayors that have either rubber-stamp or screw-you legislative bodies are going to be in for a real shock when they get to D.C. This is why Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney don't really have relevant domestic experience either, but Mike Huckabee does.

The NY City Counsel has for years been a debating society where most of the real decision making power lies with the office of mayor. Giuliani, or Bloomberg for that matter, have a real test when they sought something from Albany, not from the Counsel.

The opposite is true in Massachusetts. Mitt Romney could posture and hand the General Court any old budget he wanted, because he knew darn well that the bosses in the House or Senate could muster veto-proof majorities (or veto-overrides) at will on any line item or bill they felt like. That is, although Massachusetts gives its governor line-item veto power, veto-overrides were a routine matter. During budget season (right about now) while I was working for Rep. Blumer in 2003-04, there would be several veto-override votes about once a week.

For those who have never been in the executive branch, there is still a legitimate claim to domestic experience: Shepperd through an important piece of legislation through a recalcitrant Congress and over a recalcitrant President. Senator Chris Dodd was a great example, having worked for years and years to get the Family Medical Leave Act passed through Congress and signed into law in 1992. Ditto for John McCain, who was finally able to get campaign finance reform through in 2002. And Bob Dole and the Americans with Disability Act. And Hillary Clinton for the bill to give National Guardsmen (and women) access to the same veteran's benefits as those who serve(d) in [in no particular order vets] the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marines. Or Obama for the lobbyist reform bill.

Which brings me to a semi-related point. Democrats have for decades--since Nixon's election in 1968--been confounded as to why working class folks in the Rust Belt, the Mountain West, the Plains, and the South seemingly vote against their economic interests by "pulling the lever" for Republicans. Groups like the DLC were founded to offer their theories as to why this was happening and what to do about it. Books like "What's the Matter with Kansas?" were written to come up with an alternate theory and approach.

One camp believed that these folks were snookered into voting the way they did because Republicans scared/distracted them with wedge issues that have been described as the four Gs: God, Guns, Gays, and the Gas Chamber (aka Death Penalty). Of course, on top of this some liberal academics postulated about the racial implications as well. If Democrats could just say the magic words, the theory went, these folks would wake up from their spell and rejoin the New Deal Coalition.

The other camp believed that you had to appease these folks views on the four Gs by either making statements like "Abortion should be safe, legal and rare," or by nominating candidates in those regions who were, for instance, pro-life. If these folks would see that we take their cultural views seriously, the theory went, they would listen to us on ecnomic issues and they would vote our way.

Both Obama and Clinton use tactics from both schools of thought to get votes in the middle of Pennslyvania, which is demographically similar to these regions that "don't vote right." Obama's "bitter" comment was part of the trickery school, but his "no one is pro-abortion" statement is of the other school. Hillary and her husband have stated less caustic versions of the bitter line, and Bill coined the safe legal and rare line.

To me, both tactics seem as patronizing as the Republican "elitist" attack--which ironically is always made by people making millions of dollars with homes and jobs in one of the capitols of "elitism"--New York City. People believe what they believe because it is their religion and culture, it is part of who they are and what it means to be someone from that place. The New Deal coalition isn't coming back together because two parties have dramatically changed as a result of the events of 1964-68.

And I don't know about you, but I would like to get beyond the 60s and 70s, and to stop viewing every modern event though the lens of the 20s and 30s of Baby Boomers. Each party seems to have fundamental weaknesses that makes a lasting majority for either a fantasy. Neither party seems to be addressing people who are in economic times in the region due to fundamental forces that no candidate for president--no matter what their experiences--can slow down, let alone stop.

That is, to address the fundamental problems of our times, we can't count on pitting on group against another or "framing" to gather up enough support to ram-through stuff we wanted to do for decades, or to scare voters by saying someone isn't experienced enough to be president, when all three of them are qualified to be president. That is, we need to work together in a real way that gets out the real reasons why one person doesn't like some provision--and not some trumped up political excuse.

No comments: