Can­di­dates for change, ex­pe­ri­ence? Well, no

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Tony Blank­ley

Ev­ery po­lit­i­cal sea­son gives birth to one or two in­stant cliches. Out­side of pol­i­tics a phrase of­ten takes gen­er­a­tions to be spoiled as an ef­fec­tive term by long fa­mil­iar­ity, or to be­come dull and mean­ing­less by overuse. In to­day’s pol­i­tics a gen­uine cliche can be cre­ated in a month due to its in­tense rep­e­ti­tion by TV and print pun­dits as well as by a myr­iad of blog­gers.

But at least non-po­lit­i­cal cliches have the ad­van­tage of point­ing out some­thing usu­ally true. Go out­side at 4 a.m. and you will note the truth of the cliche that it is al­ways dark­est be­fore the dawn. Have a small tear in a piece of cloth­ing promptly sewed up and you learn that a stitch in time does save nine (stitches). Or per­haps, more ac­cu­rately, don’t have it promptly re­paired and have to pay for ex­ten­sive stitch­ing.

But this sea­son’s pre­mier po­lit­i­cal cliche is al­ready both hack­neyed and trite, while hav­ing no ob­vi­ous truth to it. I am re­fer­ring to the claim that Sen. Barack Obama would bring real change to Amer­ica, while Sen. Hil­lary Clin­ton would bring ex­ten­sive ex­pe­ri­ence to the of­fice.

First, it is in­ter­est­ing to note where this cliche came from. As far as I can tell, its ori­gins are noth­ing more than the cam­paign claims of the two can­di­dates. Sen. Hil­lary Mil­hous Clin­ton has been lum­ber­ing around the po­lit­i­cal land­scape talk­ing about her­self as com­man­der in chief. She joined the Se­nate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee as a fresh­man seven short years ago and has man­aged to pick up enough mil­i­tary jar­gon to sound like an Army ma­jor on his third tour of duty in the Pen­tagon’s ad­min­is­tra­tive of­fice. She has taken on the world-weary sound of a vet­eran Euro­pean diplo­mat — al­though she has not car­ried out even one day’s duty as a diplo­mat.

In fact, prior to be­ing elected to the Se­nate in 2000, her only re­cent pro­fes­sional em­ploy­ment had been as a lawyer in Lit­tle Rock, Arkansas while her hus­band, coin­ci­den­tally, was gov­er­nor of that state. She rep­re­sented clients who some­times had an in­ter­est in get­ting to know her hus­band bet­ter.

She has never man­aged any­thing larger than a Se­nate of­fice, al­though she did ex­er­cise the tra­di­tional first lady’s pre­rog­a­tive of try­ing to get var­i­ous of her hus­band’s staff fired.

Her in­ter­na­tional ac­tiv­i­ties while first lady were more in line with the cer­e­mo­nial re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of a Pat Nixon or Laura Bush, than with the ac­tual in­ter­ven­tions of Eleanor Roo­sevelt — who she does claim to have spo­ken to via seance.

In other words, she doesn’t have the gov­ern­ment man­age­ment ex­pe­ri­ence of a Rea­gan, Carter or Bill Clin­ton. Nor does she have the in­ter­na­tional, mili- tary or naval ex­pe­ri­ence of an Eisen­hower, Hoover or a Franklin Roo­sevelt. Now, this doesn’t mean she would not make a jim-dandy pres­i­dent (al­though I would pre­fer about 295 mil­lion other Amer­i­cans in that job be­fore her). But it does mean that the cliche that she is the ex­pe­ri­enced can­di­date is just hooey.

As to Mr. Obama be­ing the can­di­date for change, this idea seems to have orig­i­nated with — Mr. Obama. His home page has a big map at the top ti­tled “Road to Change.” And he wrote an au­da­cious book claim­ing the novel au­dac­ity of a politi­cian of­fer­ing the change of hope to the vot­ers. Of course, politi­cians since the be­gin­ning of time have ped­dled ei­ther fear or hope — with the bet­ter ones of­fer­ing both si­mul­ta­ne­ously.

More­over, his pol­icy think­ing ap­pears to be po­lit­i­cally safe and rou­tine left-of-cen­ter Wash­ing­ton think tank ideas — noth­ing ter­ri­bly in­no­va­tive.

Nor is of­fer­ing to end par­ti­san bick­er­ing much of an in­no­va­tion — al­though ac­com­plish­ing it would be. And that is where a shrewd as­sess­ment of Mr. Obama would sug­gest his is an un­likely per­son­al­ity to end par­ti­san bick­er­ing. He has al­ready, in his short Wash­ing­ton ca­reer, dis­played a haughty pride in his own high intelligence, a def­i­nite in­stinct for sar­cas­ti­cally toned com­ments about his op­po­nents (even in his own party), a re­fusal to ad­mit any er­rors and an undis­ci­plined and flip­pant man­ner.

Imag­ine a Pres­i­dent Obama — with all those traits — reach­ing out, work­ing with and com­pro­mis­ing with the full menagerie of Capi­tol Hill crea­tures. He couldn’t pos­si­bly hold his tongue for eight weeks, let alone eight years, work­ing in har­ness with con­gress­men, sen­a­tors and in­ter­est­group rep­re­sen­ta­tives he judged to be knuckle-drag­ging nin­com­poops. This is a guy des­tined to be the Godzilla of skunks at any Wash­ing­ton bi­par­ti­san pic­nic.

Which is not to say that he wouldn’t be a prince of a pres­i­dent. It’s just that it will not be based on chang­ing the way Wash­ing­ton does busi­ness.

The me­dia should not be so will­ing to par­rot each of Mrs. Clin­ton’s and Mr. Obama’s cam­paign themes. They are able work-a-day politi­cians try­ing to get them­selves elected pres­i­dent. Noth­ing is wrong with that. But Hil­lary Clin­ton is one of the leas­t­ex­pe­ri­enced ma­jor can­di­dates for pres­i­dent in the last hun­dred years, and Barack Obama is nei­ther stylis­ti­cally nor sub­stan­tively of­fer­ing any more change than have most can­di­dates over the gen­er­a­tions.

So far, nei­ther party is of­fer­ing up a can­di­date with nearly as much change in­stinct or worldly ex­pe­ri­ence as is clearly needed in this rapidly and dan­ger­ously chang­ing world.

Tony Blank­ley is edi­to­rial page ed­i­tor of The Wash­ing­ton Times. He can be reached via e-mail at tblank­ley@wash­ing­ton­times.com.

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