Tuesday, March 27, 2007

"Experience is the New Electability"

Matt Stoller:
I'm not going to wade into the electability argument so much, since I think that whether a Democrat wins is a less important question than whether the country realigns around a progressive majority. I also think that 'electability' as it was used in 2004 was a term exploited by insiders to scare primary voters into trusting their pick for President, and their pick was John Kerry and most definitely not an antiwar Howard Dean.
This year, the new term the establishment is using to steamroll over the progressive movement is 'experienced.' I noticed it awhile back, but I didn't think much of it until I saw this Media Matters piece on the Politico and Drudge.

In an article appearing in The Politico's March 27 print edition, Politico chief political correspondent Mike Allen wrote that Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) has "shown a tendency toward seemingly minor contradictions and rhetorical slips," characterized Obama's alleged inconsistencies as "trivial," and wrote that "the senator's rhetorical miscues have been more curiosities than obvious political blunders." Nonetheless, Allen stretched these alleged "trivial" inconsistencies into a 1,200-word article headlined, "Rookie Mistakes Plague Obama," which appeared on the front page of the print edition.

One of the hallmarks of a right-wing frame is that it plays into a set of well-known universal fears. I've heard a number of Democrats express concern about Obama's experience in running campaigns. I know have. And the larger narrative about Democrats, which always centers on weakness, shines through when you consider our giant fear, which is that a candidate will not be strong enough, or experienced enough, to know when to fight back against the right or against our external enemies.

A lot of Senator Clinton's expressions, and her supporters, use her experience as a selling point. Essentially, the argument is that she's been there before, and she knows what the right-wing will throw at her. She's prepared for it, and no one else is. The argument the right uses, which complements the Clinton camp's, is that no Democrat is prepared for what the world will throw at America. We face threats, and it's important to have someone who has been there before and upon whom you can rely to parry them. It's a simple turn of phrase to take this line, and argue that criticism by progressives of her overt militaristic instincts and her plan to keep troops in Iraq is just the kind of unserious and inexperienced strategy that people unworried by Iraq becoming a 'petri dish' for Al Qaeda would put forward. Experience teaches you than the world is a dangerous place, dear. This is also an inherently conservative frame, since the argument is that we should rely on that which has worked before.

The whole point of the 'experience' frame is to whitewash Clintonian complicity in Iraq and in the corporate takeover of our government from the early 1990s onward. Lest we forget, it was Hillary Clinton who screwed up the universal health care debate, despite a massive public mandate for universal health care in the 1992 election and high public support for it. It started off well, with her giving rock star like testimony in Congress, rattling off answers. But then, Clinton just wanted desperately to cooperate with business interests and do health care without any organizing behind it, and these right-wing interests turned around and kicked her in the shin. She was secretive and an abrasive manager, as well as reliant on policymakers with poor judgment. And now she's running on the idea that she's experienced in health care, even as she has more corporate health care money in her campaign coffers than any other Senator and approximately zero major Senate accomplishments to her name in any arena foreign or domestic. Sure that's experience, but it's experience at combing over bad judgment and poor political instincts.

Establishment insiders, especially in the foreign policy community, tend to have horrible, horrible judgment. The bad ones are promoted and the good ones marginalized, by design. A change in this design requires a change in leadership of the party, but that necessarily means new faces and new blood and a relatively lack of experience. It's really a choice - do we want good judgment and a fresh perspective, or do we want deep experience screwing things up?

Don't be fooled by the experience frame, because it's coming from the right-wing hawks in both parties. After all, Bush is now the most experienced wartime President alive today.
Cross-posted at www.howieinseattle.com.



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