Friday, September 12, 2008

Executive Experience

Enough with family values and small town values and pigs with lipstick. Until Sarah Palin answers actual questions about her positions and philosophies,
her record is all there is to go on; let’s look at it.

Two terms as mayor of a town with less than 10,000 inhabitants
Twenty months as governor of a 47th most populous state, with a budget that ranks 38th in the nation.

It has been pointed out she has more executive experience than both Democratic nominees combined. No argument. Let’s examine the relevance of that argument.

Wasilla, Alaska, has, by the best figures I could find, 9,780 inhabitants. Lower Burrell, Pennsylvania—my home town—has 12,159, so it can reasonably be argued that I have a similar small town upbringing. Gov. Palin and I are both college graduates; she graduated from the University of Idaho (current enrollment 11,636); my alma mater is Indiana University of Pennsylvania, with a current enrollment of approximately14,000. Granted, it’s been quite a whole since either of us was a student, but the rough comparison still holds. Our demographic backgrounds are not so dissimilar to prevent either of us from sharing basic small-town sensibilities.

Gov. Palin bases much of her qualification derived from small town values, which she seems to think are universal. Lower Burrell and Wasilla are similar in size, but there do appear to be some differences in values. The most recent available figures for registered sex offenders shows Wasilla with one per every 133 residents; Lower Burrell has one per every 4,110. For comparison purposes, Washington DC has 1,030 residents for every registered sex offender. If you drop something on a Wasilla street, leave it there.

The most recent data I could find—2002, during then-Mayor Palin’s tenure—shows 68 city employees in Wasilla. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, under the chairmanship of Joe Biden, has approximately 280 staff members. Granted, Biden has people to actually make sure things get done. So does the mayor. (Alaska has approximately 15,000 state employees.) Mayor is considered to be a part-time job in Wasilla, which can reasonably be argued diminishes the intensity of the executive experience.

Her mayoral experience is a straw man; no one would argue Don Kinosz’s experience as Mayor of Lower Burrell qualifies him to run the world’s leading democracy in turbulent times. Governor of Alaska is more relevant experience. Aside from this sentence, we will leave aside Karl Rove’s August assertion that, should Obama select Virginia governor Tim Kaine as his running mate, it would prove Obama’s willingness to place politics ahead of country, due to Kaine’s lack of experience as Virginia governor, though he has governed a state with over eleven times the population of Governor Palin and a budget over three-and-a-half times that of Alaska’s, for only forty-one fewer days.

One point jumps out from the above comparison. Virginia has eleven times the people, yet spends less than four times as much to run the state. Given that Alaska has great expanses of empty land that make many economies of scale impractical, it’s still costing three times as much per capita to run Alaska than it does to keep Virginia operational. Alaska ranks second in the nation in federal aid, and has the third highest unemployment rate. It passes out subsidies of $3200 per eligible citizen from its oil revenues. How this fits with the conservative mantra of less government remains to be seen.

A reasonable person could argue she’s only been in office twenty months. Hardly time for her policies to take effect. True, but Republicans can’t logically have it both ways. (Not that they don’t try.) If her twenty months of experience is enough to qualify her to hold the missile codes, then it’s enough to measure her performance.

This is where the essential disconnect occurs in the “executive experience” argument; the term “successful executive experience” would carry much more water. No president has ever had more executive experience than George W. Bush did when elected in 2000. Little of it could be called successful up to that point, so it should not be a surprise to see his executive decisions afterward lead to several calamities. Gubernatorial experience is no indicator of a successful presidency. Reagan and Clinton were governors; so was Jimmy Carter.

A senator’s lack of “executive experience” is also hardly a disqualifier. Senators have rarely been elected in the past sixty years. The two who were, Truman and Kennedy, did all right. Lyndon Johnson was a senator when elected vice-president. His presidency is generally considered to be a failure because of Vietnam, but Johnson is woefully shortchanged when it comes to passing out credit for civil rights advances in the Sixties.

Then there’s Eisenhower, the most recent war hero to become president. As impressive as his military resume was, it was his diplomatic skills that got him the job of Supreme Allied Commander, and it was those skills that allowed him to hold together the world’s greatest and most fractious alliance. Eisenhower’s executive experience was earned under fire, literally.

Governors have no equivalent experience; their most important decisions are managerial. Education, infrastructure, budgets. All important; none are life and death. Comparing a governor’s executive experience to what’s needed to be president is like comparing a football coach to a general.

Sarah Palin’s executive experience in Alaska is inconsequential when compared the world experience of the Democratic ticket. Asking her to step in on a moment’s notice to run what is probably the world’s most important nation would be like bringing a pitcher out of the minor leagues to pitch the seventh game of the World Series. The rookie might do all right, but no one’s going to bet their house payment on it.

(Figures cited above were obtained from the web sites of the institutions, US Census data, and www.city-data.com )

4 comments:

Runs With Scissors said...

I’m sure, embedded somewhere in your latest screed is a point, but I just couldn’t seem to find it. If, with your permission, I could paraphrase, it really boils down to this:

Do you think Gov. Palin’s level of experience disqualifies her as a potential vice-president?

If you answer “no,” the question is begged “why even discuss it?”

If the answer is “yes,” then you must, logically, also disqualify Barak Obama as a candidate for president. Arguments could be made that the paltry experience of one bests the paltry experience of the other, but in the final analysis they are both neophytes. The difference is that one is on the ticket to serve as president and held, one would expect, to higher entry criteria than the lower position. The warm piss difference between the two, favorable to either side, does not change the logic of disqualification.

Also, keep in mind this: We once elected President a one term Congressman who had served in his State Legislature and had failed in becoming elected US Senator. His name was Abraham Lincoln. That salient point is equally favorable to a vice-presidential candidate as to a presidential candidate.

When it comes to silly arguments this is another that should not be made as it quickly becomes distracting and tiresome.

Runs With Scissors said...

I’m sure, embedded somewhere in your latest screed is a point, but I just couldn’t seem to find it. If, with your permission, I could paraphrase, it really boils down to this:

Do you think Gov. Palin’s level of experience disqualifies her as a potential vice-president?

If you answer “no,” the question is begged “why even discuss it?”

If the answer is “yes,” then you must, logically, also disqualify Barak Obama as a candidate for president. Arguments could be made that the paltry experience of one bests the paltry experience of the other, but in the final analysis they are both neophytes. The difference is that one is on the ticket to serve as president and held, one would expect, to higher entry criteria than the lower position. The warm piss difference between the two, favorable to either side, does not change the logic of disqualification.

Also, keep in mind this: We once elected President a one term Congressman who had served in his State Legislature and had failed in becoming elected US Senator. His name was Abraham Lincoln. That salient point is equally favorable to a vice-presidential candidate as to a presidential candidate.

When it comes to silly arguments this is another that should not be made as it quickly becomes distracting and tiresome.

Dana King said...

Your logic defies description. Time in the US Senate exposes even a neophyte to more high-level situations than anything a governor ever faces, especially a governor who told Charlie Gibson she has insights into Russia because there are points in Alaska where you can see Russia.

Palin's qualifications, or lack thereof, are more germane than most vice-presidential candidates, as McCain's age makes him less likely to complete his term than most previous candidates.

Speaking of not making a point you then pull the classic Republican/conservative move of arguing both sides in defense of your point. I can't argue that Palin's inexperience disqualifies her without admitting Obama's inexperience disqualifies him; then say it doesn't matter because we elected Lincoln and things worked out for us. If experience truly does not matter--whihc is what you seem to be saying with the Lincoln comment--then I could ask the same question of you as you asked in your comment: why even discuss it.

One question you failed to address, and I'm curious: What do you think of ROve's comments, that Kaine would be a blatantly political choice for Obama to make due to his inexperience, but Palin is good for the country Saying McCain has the necessary experience won't cut it; he'll be dead if she gets the job.

Runs With Scissors said...

If experience is so important, with time served in the US Senate sine qua non, then why isn’t Hillary Clinton the Democratic Party candidate for President? Better yet, why not Joe Biden?

As to the difference in experience between Obama and Palin, perhaps a vulgar riddle will inform: Two ladies of the evening are having a conversation. One says, “I’ve been working this street corner for nearly two years.” The other says, “I’ve been working this street corner for nearly four years, but I had to take two years off for the treatment of a particularly nasty case of the clap.” Which is more virtuous?

Keep the argument going. Die hard Democrats or Republicans will not be swayed by it. However, it serves to sway the undecided voters towards McCain. By making the argument that Palin is not experienced attention is focused on Obama’s lack of experience compared to McCain or Biden. It also makes the undecided voter wonder why Obama seems to be running against Palin. He is, after all, running against McCain, but the focus is shifted elsewhere.

I will watch this campaign smugly amused. Karl Rove and the Republicans, and you and the Democrats will apply procrustean logic to facts and rumor in attempting to convince the public that one Menendez brother is better than the other. Right now Lyle, the older one, seems to be taking the lead.