Roger’s Rules

Obama's 143 days, Hillary's duty, and the politics of "experience" and "change"

OK, so Hillary “did her duty” last night and delivered a speech that caused the sort of “modifed rapture” Nanki-Poo experiences when he at last gets his tête-a-tête with Yum-Yum only to discover that his rival Koko, whom he thought beheaded, is alive and slated to be married to his beloved that very afternoon. Hillary really was dutiful. As Tom Bevan says over at RealClearPolitics, she got off a couple of zingers, e.g., “with an agenda like that, it makes sense that George Bush and John McCain will be together next week in the Twin Cities. Because these days they’re awfully hard to tell apart.” But being dutiful is not exactly the same as being wildly enthusiastic. At the end of the day, she bowed to the inevitable, she lay back, and thought of 2012. As Bevan notes, nowhere did Hillary say that Obama was ready to be Commander in Chief (an omission, he points out, that the McCain was quick to call to the public’s attention). Personally, I do not blame Hillary for this omission. The gag reflex is not generally subject to conscious suppression and, as Gertrude Stein said in another context, even Hillary knows how far she can go in going too far.

Of course, the issue of “experience” has been one of the two leitmotifs–or, rather, one of the two slogans–of this campaign. The other slogan is “change.” Both are like ancient coins whose identifying marks have been all but effaced by being handed around promiscuously for so long. It would be a useful exercise to try to give some content to what Obama means by “change.” Were I to attempt it, I would probably start by going back to the start of Obama’s political life in Bill “Weatherman” Ayers’s living room. Critical question: exactly what sort of “change” does Obama really want? The sort that Bill Ayers wanted in the 1960s, and, indeed, as late as September 11, 2001 when (as the gods of coincidence would have it) he was the subject of a flattering piece in The New York Times (natch) in which he said, inter alia, that far from regretting his efforts to bomb the Capitol, the Pentagon, and various police stations, he and his pals “didn’t do enough”? Well, that is a subject for another day, and, besides, Stanley Kurtz has been doing yeoman’s work uncovering the Barack Obama’s original political agenda. Obama now says that Ayers was “just a guy who lives in my neighborhood,” but Kurtz shows that Obama was chairman of The Annenberg Challenge, an activist, left-wing educational foundation in Chicago founded and inspired by Ayes. Really, so far as Obama is concerned, Ayers, who was pictured as recently as 2001 stomping on an American flag (the idea that America is decent society, he said, “makes me want to puke“) was “just a guy who lives” in Obama’s neighborhood and with whom he just happened had a close professional and political relationship.

In any event, “change” is a slogan I’ll leave for another day. But what about “experience”? It’s that quality that McCain is supposed to have lots of, Obama is supposed to lack, but what, really are we talking about? We all know that length of time by itself is no measure of learning let alone wisdom. “We had the experience,” T.S. Eliot lamented in Four Quartets, “but missed the meaning.” But we also know that experience, i.e., time served, counts for something. And with this in mind, I am happy to share the bulk of an email a friend sent me that compares Obama’s experience with John McCain’s. It was titled “The Executive Summary” and offers, I believe, a thought-provoking comparison:

John McCain in Congress: 26 years; in the military: 22 Years

Barrack Obama in Congress: 143 days; in the military: 0

The email went on to offer these reflections:

From the time Barack Obama was sworn in as a United States Senator, to the time he announced he was forming a Presidential exploratory Committee, he logged 143 days of experience in the Senate.

That’s how many days the Senate was actually in session and working.

The one single Senate committee that he headed never even met — once.

After 143 days of work experience, Obama believed he was ready to be Commander In Chief, Leader of the Free World, and fill the shoes of Abraham Lincoln, FDR, JFK and Ronald Reagan.

Think about it……. 143 days — 20.4 weeks — 4.7 months …

The email concluded with a line printed in large type:

Our children spend more time in pre-school getting ready for kindergarten.

Makes you think, doesn’t it? As I say, experience, measured simply by time passed, isn’t everything. But surely it is something.