More than any other US presidential race, the ongoing primaries have put a lot of emphasis on the issue of experience. This emphasis has been particularly pronounced on the Democratic front, where Senator Hillary Clinton, the former First Lady, has used the slogan "ready to lead and most experienced" as the cornerstone of her campaign. For months, Mrs Clinton has been campaigning as the self-proclaimed, most experienced candidate; notwithstanding the fact that there were veteran senators with decades of dedicated public service in the race--Joe Bidden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Christopher Dodd, chairman of the Senate Banking Committee.
While this strategy of self-promotion may actually overshadow other candidates, it posed a number of serious problems at the onset. Not the least because, when pushed to the limit, self-promotion can alienate the voters who have to choose the candidate most able to face the Republican nominee in the general elections in November this year.
As it turned out in Iowa, the people were neither convinced nor comfortable with her self-promotion campaign. In response to the apparently unexpected setback in Iowa, her camp adopted a new strategy of personal and direct attacks against Senator Barack Obama, the first African-American with the greatest chance of becoming president of the United States. In particular, Mrs Clinton has consistently claimed that Senator Obama does not have the experience required for the job and won't be ready to lead the country from day one.
This constant reference to experience in this campaign reminds many African-Americans, most of whom were not born with a gold-plated spoon in their mouth but who strongly believe in the American Dream, of the chicken and egg dilemma that some have had to confront in their careers: the "lack of experience" vs the "lack of academic qualification". The Clintons had hoped that by constantly referring to Obama's presumed "lack of experience", Americans would finally buy into it, and hence disregard a visionary leader whose capacity to inspire has already captivated the hearts and minds of millions of Americans.
The outcome of the first primaries has clearly shown that the Clintons' refrain has not impressed Americans, who are making independent and rational choices nonetheless. After all, experience is a function of two most important variables: sound academic training and practice in a field that is directly relevant. Experience is not necessarily a function of age; otherwise President John F. Kennedy, formerly a junior senator from Massachusetts, who turned out to be one of the greatest leaders in the world, would not have become the leader of the United States. He was 44 years old when he entered the White House.
Nor is experience a reflection of the number of years spent within the corridors of power, else the graceful Barbara Bush, who stood by her husband in the circles of power for decades as he served as congressman, ambassador to the UN and to China, CIA director, vice president and then president, would undoubtedly be the most experienced person to lead America.
Hence, the need to focus on relevant experience in assessing Democratic front-runners. …