Obama – It is about Experience and Judgement

“I am running for President of the United States of America. I’m running to be Commander in Chief. And the reason I‘m running to be Commander in Chief is because I believe that the most important thing, when you answer that phone call at 3 in the morning, is what kind of judgement do you have – not how long you have been in Washington, but what kind of judgement do you have when you’re answering that phone.” Barack Obama, Mississippi, 10 March 2008.

So said Barack Obama in response to the TV attacks by Hillary Clinton, implying that he was too inexperienced to deal with a national security matter at three in the morning. If you haven’t seen it, it’s an ad taken straight from the Republican playbook.

Unfortunately, this suggestion by Clinton falls into the same trap that Clinton has set, and indeed has begun to have some resonance in the American media.

And it’s just plain wrong. Barack Obama was a State Senator for seven years in Illinois, one of the more populous states in America, and not without its share of problems. Then, he secured a spot in a cherished position, the United States Senate – and became only the third Black Senator since Reconstruction. That’s right, one of three since the latter half of the 19th century. By the time the election comes around in November, Obama will be nearing the end of four years in that place.

For the record, that’s only four years less than Clinton in the Senate. Hillary’s only other experience, was not as an elected official, but as First Lady. True, she carved out her own role, was incredibly proactive and a serious advisor to the President. Yet, one of her major tasks during that time was to help secure a national health care reform and it failed dismally. And it failed in many ways because of the way the system in Washington works – one of the things that Obama is referring to when he uses the word “Change”.

But if we are to accept the notion that experience in Washington is all that matters, first we must look at the recent history. Let’s take four of the last five Presidents. Jimmy Carter was Governor of Georgia, Reagan a Governor of California, Bill Clinton, Governor of Arkansas and Bush Jr, Governor of Texas. Not one of them, including Hillary’s husband, had served in Washington before coming to the Presidency.

Yet as Obama says, it’s not just about experience in Washington, it is about judgement. On one of the most important matters in a generation, the Iraq war, Obama stood very much alone as an opponent, at a time when holding such a view as a politician was not only unpopular, but potentially a career breaking decision.
At the same time, Hillary Clinton was standing firmly behind President Bush in his call for war. It’s not just about being capable of admitting when you are wrong, but making the right decisions in the first place.

Only days ago, former Democratic Vice Presidential Candidate, and the first woman from a major party to stand for that high office, Geraldine Ferraro suggested that Obama wouldn’t be where he is today, were it not for the colour of his skin. But she went further, decrying America’s media for being too sexist.

It can’t be said that Obama hasn’t broken down barriers himself. Raised mainly by his grandparents in Hawaii, he then went on not to only attend Harvard, but to head the prestigious Harvard Law Review. Serving in the Illinois Senate, followed up by the United States Senate and then a real contender for President, are no small achievements. Particularly for a skinny black kid with a funny name. His words, not mine.

For all of last year, Obama was the underdog. In fact, some national polls had him more than thirty points behind Clinton. And it wasn’t until Super Tuesday a month ago that he was given a real chance. But let us be aware that it is not through some delicious scandal or massive political error that Hillary is now trailing Obama. The lead that Obama enjoys is due to persistence – the same which many credit the Clintons with – persistence in fighting against the odds and against the best political machine in the country.

The Democratic nomination is still at least weeks, if not months away from being decided. Unfortunately for Clinton, if she does secure the nomination, the 3am negative ad against Obama in Ohio and Texas, could just as easily be turned around and used by John McCain come November. Perhaps by then, it might be about judgement.