22 October 2008

Experience and inexperience in presidential campaigns

Reflecting on televised ‘debates’ in US presidential campaigns for my previous entry reminded me of two memorable moments from previous shows, both of which majored on the importance of a candidate’s experience or lack of it .

The first, from the 1988 vice-presidential ‘debate’, was Lloyd Bentsen’s reply to Dan Quayle’s claim to be as experienced as Jack Kennedy was when he ran for president:

"Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy."

The second had more resonance for the current campaign, in which one of the candidates also has an age problem. When running for his second term in 1984, Ronald Reagan was a year older than John McCain is now, and one of the interviewers had the cheek to raise the matter with him on prime time television. No doubt carefully prepared in advance, Reagan came up with the classic response:

“I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”

Watch the second video below and you’ll see that Walter Mondale, Reagan’s ‘youthful and inexperienced’ opponent, thought it a pretty good joke too. But part of the humour lay in the fact that Mondale was not particularly youthful and, as vice-president to Jimmy Carter, could hardly be described as ‘inexperienced’.

McCain, of course, can’t pull a similar trick on Obama, because he’s been doing his best to make his opponent’s youthfulness and inexperience an issue. Nor does this Senator McCain seem to be gifted with the folksy self-deprecating sense of humour that served Ronald Reagan so well.

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