Hillary Clinton has been widely criticized for this comment where she seems to suggest that John McCain would make a better president than Barack Obama because his (and her) “lifetime of experience” trumps Obama’s single speech – as if Obama simply materialized on the planet the day of the speech and has experienced nothing since!
Contrary to Hillary's logic, every candidate has a lifetime of experience. Even if Rush Limbaugh were running for president, he would have a lifetime of experience - albeit experience that includes Oxycontin abuse and Viagra fueled sex tourism in the Dominican Republic! The only differences are in the length of the lifetime, the quality of the experience, and the capacity to learn from that experience and apply it effectively to future situations.
If it were only about longevity, there would be no point in running either Democrat against John McCain. He would just pick John Warner as his running mate and the coronation would begin!
While quality of experience is important, simply "being there" isn't enough. To be effective, you must show you can learn from the experience you have.
The fact is that neither Hillary Clinton nor Barack Obama has any executive experience. Neither has been the primary decision maker running a large organization; the one who would answer the phone at 3 AM if there were a catastrophic problem. The closest comparison we have to actual executive experience is to look at their respective performance as “Commander in Chief” of a presidential campaign.
And the difference here is dramatic!
Hillary started her campaign as the Democratic Party’s only “superpower.” She had the highest name recognition, the most donors, and the support of the influential party establishment. By her own admission, it was her nomination!
However, through a combination of financial mismanagement, tone deaf messaging, lack of a long-term strategy, and failure to properly prepare for a highly motivated insurgent opponent, her campaign fell flat. By Super Tuesday, it had sunk to near bankruptcy before a loan from her personal fortune kept it on life support through a string of 11 straight primary losses, eventually leaving her on the verge of irrelevancy in the presidential race. In many ways, the arc of her campaign resembles the arc of the country under President Bush!
Obama, on the other hand, started as an unknown junior Senator with little financial backing and few influential supporters. He built a surprisingly effective grassroots organization based on inspiring ordinary people to get involved in trying to accomplish something extraordinary. He built a network from scratch, using cutting edge technology, not only to raise funds, but to inspire the creatively and passion of his supporters to find their own ways of contributing.
One example is Obamacycle.com, a website devoted to maximizing the efficient use of campaign materials by moving them from State to State in advance of primaries.
Musicians, videographers, and bloggers contributed inspirational material that added to the formal campaign marketing effort in ways impossible to measure by the standards of any previous political race.
In a NYT column ostensibly written in support of Hillary Clinton, Gail Collins summed it all up (with my emphasis):
If Hillary is stumbling, it may be because there just isn’t any good path to take. Nobody wants a bloodbath, and fighting against the first possible African-American president can be as tricky as going after the first possible woman. Still, she might have been able to handle all that, and the fact that he is a product of Kansas and Hawaii and Kenya, of Christians and Muslims, of a single mom on food stamps and Harvard Law, if he didn’t also turn out to have the best learning curve in political history.Although she somehow confuses the concept of a "learning curve" with the behavior of a "real estate bubble," Collins captures the key to Obama’s promise in what Hillary would call the “comparison and contrast” of lifetime experience.
You don’t often see a candidate on a trajectory like Obama’s, and at some point it will inevitably head down again. But until it does, even the original Bill Clinton would have a hard time beating him.
Obama’s lifetime of experience, although shorter than Hillary’s, reflects the upward arc exemplified by his presidential campaign, while Hillary’s now appears to reflect the downward arc exemplified by hers!