Re: Useful Comparisons

by Jonathan H. Adler

A reader e-mails:

Howard Dean had been governor of Vermont for 11 years before he ran for president.  I suspect that if she had been governor of Alaska for that long, we wouldn’t even be hearing about her time as mayor of Wasilla.  Her record as governor would be enough to stand on its own.

John Edwards, while having served only one term in the Senate, was a wildly successful trial attorney in North Carolina for two decades.  He had risen to the top of that profession, and was profesionally respected across the state bar.  He then ran a full campaign for president, in which he became versed on the full range of domestic and foreign policy issues, and was on record on all.

The other thing which sets both Dean and Edwards apart is that they ran for president, an activity that you seem to discount as unimportant.  Both had to build campaign organizations, hire staff, develop a platform, and take their message to the people.  Granted, neither of them became the Democratic Party’s nominee in 2004, but both spent several months out on the stump, raising money, talking to voters.   Gov. Palin did not do any of that until Friday.

Also, the four “finalists” for Obama’s VP selection – Bayh, Biden, Kaine, Sebelius – all campaigned with Obama in June, July and August.  Obama had a chance to see how they “fit” out on the campaign trail…something McCain never had with Palin.

Me: Yes Dean had many more years as Governor of a less-significant state, after falling into the job.  Vermont has fewer people, much less land, and a much smaller economy than Alaska, and one that lacks some of the big issues — energy, federal lands, etc. — that make Alaska quite unique.  Dean also fell into the job, whereas Palin reached the state house by challenging a very powerful incumbent.  

Edwards was a very good trial lawyer, the best in North Carolina and perhaps one of the best in the country, but so what?  He was best known for his effective oral advocacy and ability to sway juries.  Is that the sort of experience we value in a prospective President?

I readily admit I don’t understand the argument that running a presidential campaign is experience to be President.  And if that is important experience, particularly the scrutiny and the need to master many issues, no candidate has it before they start running, and anyone who runs successfully will, by definition, have that experience before they take office, so that can’t be an objection to Palin. Come November, she’ll have that experience is spades.  I’d also note that, as Governor, Palin runs a state that is far larger than either Dean’s or Edwards’ respective campaigns (as well as Obama’s), so if the actual “running” of a campaign is what’s important, she has compensating experience.  So, even if one does not believe (as I do) that the “experience” argument is over-rated, the Dean and Edwards comparisons are worth pondering.

“Fit” is a different issue entirely, but it might be overrated as well (though McCain apparently sees Palin as a “soulmate.”  It’s probably helpful here to look at history. Kennedy and Johnson? Reagan and Bush? Neither were great “fits,” but I’m not sure the degree of fit has mattered much in the success (or failure) of an Administration.

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