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Column: Examining Experience Of McCain, Obama

This story was written by Erald Kolasi, Cavalier Daily

About two months out from the presidential election, Obama and McCain are on the verge of hitting full stride with their constant bickering and politicking.

From the perspective of the McCain campaign, the election is a referendum on Obama and whether he is trustworthy and experienced enough to lead the nation. The efforts of the Obama campaign are largely focused on linking McCain to Bush, hoping to tarnish the former by association with the latter. The McCain campaign has had great success in turning their talking points, which relate to how Obama is new and unknown, into the standard narrative of the campaign, but few have taken the time to consider the shortfalls of what we do know about McCain, outside his connections to Bush. Despite the faade he has put up, McCain's record and experience are nothing to brag about.

The McCain campaign's fundamental presumption throughout this race has been that having lots of experience will be enough to convince voters to go with a known quantity rather than risk their lot on a relative political neophyte like Obama. McCain himself would argue that his experience is quite relevant towards being the president of the United States, although both he and his campaign have focused far more on the mere fact that he has more experience than Obama, rather than the quality of that experience. One of the reasons why they do not emphasize the quality of his experience more is precisely because a thorough analysis indicates the obvious: much of his experience does not qualify McCain to be president any more than Obama.

The major undercurrent in McCain's experience argument -- his involvement in Vietnam -- precedes his service in Congress by two decades. McCain hopes to show that, by surviving the Vietcong's torture methods, his resulting strength of character makes him a great pick for a president, who often needs to be resolute and decisive. But while McCain's service is honorable and his resistance under torture beyond spectacular, Gen. Wesley Clark was essentially correct in questioning whether any part of McCain's Vietnam experience gave him an edge over Obama. Strength of character is great, but strength of character alone does not make a great president. McCain is no grand strategist -- he's not Napoleon or Alexander the Great. The credit that he claims for the "surge" is misplaced since the idea for it came from military theorists and authors, primarily Frederick Kagan, who themselves learned the basics of modern counter-insurgency strategies from the French in Algeria.

If a crisis were to come up, Obama would know what to do just as much as McCain. The intricacies of diplomacy and grand strategy require both experience and, often more importantly, subtler qualities like tact or downright skill, to say nothing of simple knowledge, which is something that McCain has repeatedly botched in scores of statements about global affairs. So the major underlying aspect behind McCain's candidacy -- his military service -- does not in and of itself qualify him to be president, or at the very least it does not qualify him to be a good president, which is what we want.

McCain's Congressional record is far more indicative and, to some extent, impressive, although both he and Obama fail the "Mitt Romney Test" because they both served in legislative, not executive, posts. Beyond the headline-grabbing legislation that McCain sponsored and helped to pass, he has actually proven to be quite the typical Republican in the vast majority of his votes, and one should not believe that he has successfully acquired the elusive "maverick" label, which is tough to get in politics.

It is undeniable that McCain has been around in politics far longer than Obama, but that is not sufficient by itself to justify him as a better cadidate. McCain is now running ads about how Washington is broken while conveniently forgetting that he helped break it. Obama should remind the nation that McCain's additional experience is not enough. McCain is definitely an experienced politician, but that does not mean that he would be a great leader.

Erald Kolasi's column usually appears Mondays in the Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at