The only other impression I'm really left with after the Republican National Convention is that watching Sarah Palin's speech, all I could think was "Poor Joe Biden--he has to debate her on national television in a month." I think he is going to have his hands full, to say the least.
I actually like Joe Biden. When I testified on the bankruptcy reform legislation, he treated me respectfully and professionally, which is not something I can say for all of his colleagues. And he ended up being a staunch supporter of the legislation and voted for it, which drew 74 votes and bipartisan support (and similar levels of support in the House).
But watching Palin I all of a sudden had a memory of when I was a kid and I recall watching with sadness Muhammad Ali's fight against a younger, stronger, sharper Larry Holmes. Ali's time was past and Holmes just ran rings around him and everyone just ended up feeling sorry for Ali and hoping he wouldn't get hurt too much (which apparently he unfortunately did). I think that Palin's debate with Biden in October could end up being a rout (although Gwen Ifill won't be authorized to stop it as a TKO). And I'm not saying this to be partisan--the debates between Bill Clinton versus Bob Dole was pretty close to a TKO in 1996 from what I recall, but I think that Palin-Biden may be even more lopsided.
One of the things that is going on here, I think, is that many in the media and elsewhere have simply made a mistake in how they think about "experience." Over the past few days, we've heard a lot of people talk about Palin's "executive experience"--especially former executives, such as Giuliani, Romney, Lingle, etc. Over the past several years, I have done a lot of work with Congress (House and Senate), Governors, the White House, and of course, I served in senior management at the FTC. And based on my experiences, the job of being a Governor or executive branch official is simply different in kind from being in the Senate. Unless you've seen it up close, I don't think you really do appreciate what it means to be, say, a Governor. Governors really do take responsibility for everything that comes across their desk and every decision that gets made. They really do have to make tough decisions. The problem with the so-called "elite media" is that they don't pay attention to what governors do, so they don't really understand what this is all about.
One thing that I have noticed, for instance, is how much more knowledgeable Governors and executive branch officials are about details of legislation and regulaiton than legislators. I recently was advising a Governor of a state on some legislation to increase the state's personal property exemptions--not thought of as a big issue. But this guy (and his staff) really wanted to delve into the details of the legislation and its likely effects, the empirical work on the topic, etc. They take responsibility for what they sign and the effects of laws and regulations that are enacted.
To put it more bluntly--the Senate is, frankly, a silly place. The people in the Senate are silly and what they do most of the time is silly. To the extent that a Senator commends himself as a serious person, as I think John McCain does if nothing else, it really is despite his time in the Senate, rather than because of it. There are a handful of other Senators who seem to remain serious despite serving in the Senate (if I had to guess, I'd predict that many of those who resist Senator-itis had significant business, military, or executive branch experience before going to the Senate). It seems like McCain has managed to serve in the Senate for a long time without losing his desire for accountability and responsibilitiy. One of the best things that Barack Obama has going for him at this point is that he doesn't yet seem like a silly Senator but a real person (I note in passing that this is a disease that Hillary Clinton will have to guard against, especially if she has to wait eight more years). Compare him to the other Senators that he ran against in the primaries--Chris Dodd, Biden. I suspect that Bob Dole and John Kerry were real, serious people at one time, but by the time they ran for President, they just seemed like (for want of a better word) "goofballs." They had been changed into Senators and that seemed transparent. Presumably Bob Dole didn't always refer to himself in the third person, did he?
As for Obama's pre-Senate experience, this is an achilles heel for him, I think, in terms of conveying this seriousness. Chris Matthews had a great line the other day where he observed, "Some people say that if the guys in Scranton knew what Barack Obama did as a community organizer they'd like him for it." Matthews continued, "No they wouldn't. What is a 'community organizer? Do the guys in Scranton think that is a real job? Do they know anyone who is a 'community organizer?'" And I think that's the problem--it isn't really a serious job and it tends to reinforce the perception of Obama as a legislator and Senator rather than someone who can take responsibility and make decisions.
One of the more amusing interviews I saw when Palin was announced was with Senator Ken Salazar of Colorado. I vaguely knew that he existed, but there's no way I could name anything he's ever done. Anyway, Salazar says, "Who is Sarah Palin. I'd never even heard of her until they announced her as VP." Now, what is so strange to me is that he thought that was a putdown of Palin, whereas it seemed to me that Salazar was actually putting down himself considering he didn't even know the name of a governor. But his world view is defined by his own importance. Of course, this isn't unique to Democrats--I remember someone writing last week (I can't recall who) that he sat with Senator Hatch at a dinner in New Hampshire when Hatch was running for President in 2000 and Hatch was both stunned and dismayed to learn how few people actually knew who he was.
So to bring this back to poor Joe Biden. When Joe Biden and Sarah Palin debate, I think that he runs a real risk of coming off as a "Senator"--which is not a good thing. He hasn't had a real job in 35 years. And he seems like a man who hasn't had a real job with real responsibilities in 35 years. His long-windedness and apparent self-importance basically emobies "Senator-itis." Palin seems smart (presumably Biden is smart too), bur more importantly she is sharp and tested and on her game as a sitting Governor. She is game-tested.
I submit that based on my personal observations, those who think she "lacks experience" to be President because she is a first-term Governor really just don't know what they are talking about. And I think her ability to "step up" and give her rocking speech at the Convention is consistent with this. Nobody really has the experience to be President--the job is sui generis. What you have to have is someone who has the intelligence and character to be able to be President. Being a Governor tests for those criteria; being a Senator does not.
So note, this is not intended as an endorsement of either ticket. It is just to say don't be surprised if the supposedly inexperienced Sarah Palin mops the floor with Joe Biden when thier debate comes in October. At this point I suspect that the only way Joe Biden is going to come out of this looking ok will be to not be Joe Biden and it seems a bit late for that.
Let's also say how relieved I am that we don't have at least one non-Senator around for this election.
I meant to say "one non-Senator" in the original post and have now fixed that.