Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Krugman on Presidential Experience

From TalkLeft.

In response to this article in the Boston Globe, Paul Krugman posted the following on his blog:

"This story gives a lot of context to the debate over health reform now. Obama clearly sees himself playing the same role as president that he did as a state legislator — as a broker among groups, including the insurance industry, as someone who can find a compromise solution that’s acceptable to a wide range of opinion.

My thoughts: being president isn’t at all like being a state legislator, Illinois Republicans aren’t like the national Republican party, 2009 won’t be 2003, and the insurance industry’s opposition to national health reform — which must, if it is to mean anything, strike deep at the industry’s fundamental business — will be much harsher than its opposition to a basically quite mild state-level reform effort.

The point is that if national health reform is going to happen, it will be as the result of a no-holds-barred fight of an entirely different order from what Obama saw in Illinois. The president’s role will have to be far more confrontational, involve far more twisting of arms and rallying of the public against the special interests, than Obama’s role as a state legislator in the Illinois case. And it will take place against a backdrop of fierce attacks not just from the industry but from Republicans who fear, rightly, that any kind of reform will move the country in a more liberal direction.

My worries about Obama are that he doesn’t seem to understand this — that he thinks that in 2009, as president, he can broker a national health care reform the same way that as a state legislator, in 2003, he brokered a deal that mollified the insurance industry. That’s a recipe for getting nowhere."

I think that Krugman's point that Obama's experiences in the Illinois State Legislature haven't prepared him for the Presidency misses the target. I don't think that the target even existed to begin with.

Of course Obama's experiences in the Illinois State Legislature are dissimilar to what his experiences would be in the White House. This argument loses its credibility because it can be applied to any candidate's previous experience.

Among the democrats, a huge amount of attention has been paid to "experience" and how X candidate is the only one with the requisite experience for the job.

The Presidency is unlike anything else. I'll gladly agree with Krugman on that point. However because there is no experience that can identically simulate the experiences of a President aside from holding the office oneself, candidates are forced to present themselves - and the electorate is forced to evaluate those candidates - on the basis of actual experience.

While this is obviously an imperfect method of evaluation, this process of analogical comparison is the only one we have.

Being a Southern Baptist minister is far less comparable to being the President of the United States, but that doesn't mean that Mike Huckabee's experiences as a Southern Baptist minister wouldn't influence his presidency.

Being held captive for years in a POW camp is (hopefully) not like being the President of the United States but that experience has certainly contributed to who John McCain is and how his presidency would be.

I realize that my argument is approaching hyperbole so I'll simply return to my original point.

Being a Governor is unlike being the President. Being a Senator is unlike being the President. Being a House Representative is unlike being the President.

Being the President is like being the President.

Because none of the candidates - on either side - have been President of the United States, none of them have perfectly applicable experience of which to boast. As such, we must evaluate them on the basis of what their experience have been and how we believe those experiences have prepared them for the presidency.

Analogies are almost always imperfect, but they remain the best way of comparing two dissimilar things.

Krugman should realize that.

No comments: