What Do Democrats Want When They Say “Experience”?

March 9, 2008 at 6:31 pm

Hillary Clinton claims that we should hire the person with the most experience to be President. It’s an interesting argument, but what is really going on here?

There are two ways you could look at the term “experience” when it comes to this race:

  1. Political experience
  2. Experience fighting Republicans

Most people, including the Barack campaign, have focused on responding to the first charge. They have tried to argue that Hillary and Barack both have about the same experience.

So why is this argument holding water? I think people believe that when it comes to fighting Republicans, Hillary has seen it all and can spin with the best of them.

Consider her 3 A.M. ad. Conventional wisdom has it that this ad worked by drumming up fear and making her look like the one who could handle the call.

But the ad may have worked in a second way, convincing people that Hillary will do what it takes in a political battle. She is not afraid to fight like Republicans fight.

The Obama campaign, I believe, has made the mistake of trying to counter the first of these points (job experience) rather than the latter (“spin” experience).

What I believe Obama should say is:

  • Hillary has more experience at “spin” or at Washington politics

This acknowledges her experience, but points out where it truly lies. Then, Obama needs to focus on the underlying issue: electability.

Why do Democrats care if Hillary has more experience at “spin” and countering Rovian politics? Because they believe this will help her beat John McCain.

Obama needs to show that this is not the case. This is where Rush Limbaugh could actually be an asset.

The lesson for Obama is that he needs to:

  • Highlight his electability: Turn Rush’s endorsement of Hillary into a strength; Ask the question: Why is Rush Limbaugh telling Republicans to vote against me? It’s because he believes Republicans will lose if I’m the nominee. Would they vote for me if I was down in the race?
  • Ask how Hillary intends to beat John McCain when she is running on his platform: an experienced military commander.
  • Finish with a call to action: Ask Democrats for their vote to elect the person Limbaugh fears most.

Think about what the race would look like if it were Clinton versus McCain:

HRC: I’m more experienced.

McCain: * laughs *

HRC: I’m more qualified to be Commander in Chief.

McCain: When did you serve in the armed forces?

HRC: I’m the candidate of change.

McCain: I thought that was Obama.

The truth is that Clinton faces an uphill battle against John McCain. Even Clinton herself seems to believe this.

This is why:

  • Rush Limbaugh and every Republican strategist imaginable wants the race to be against Clinton
  • Clinton herself wants Obama as a Vice President – there is no way she wins without him

I believe that Democrats are searching for someone to beat John McCain and change the current culture of corruption.

This needs to be someone who is focused on the issues Republicans have taken their eyes off of. It also needs to be someone with experience organizing a movement on the ground who can take his case to the people to put pressure on Congress.

If the race is about changing Washington, Democrats win. If it comes down to who has the most experience fighting terrorists, Republicans win.

David Plouffe, this is the case Barack needs to make and keep making.