Anderson Cooper asked Barack Obama last night to answer the claim that Sarah Palin has more applicable experience than he does. In response, he completely ignores Palin’s status as governor, and then makes the claim that a campaign counts as executive experience:
AC: Some Republican critics say, you don’t have the experience to handle a situation like this [Hurricane Gustav]. They’ve in fact said that Governor Palin has more executive experience as mayor of a small town and as governor of a big state like Alaska. What’s your response?
BO: Well, you know, my understanding is that, uh, Governor Palin’s town of Wasilly [sic] has, uh, 50 employees, uh, uh, we’ve got 2500, uh, in this campaign. I think their budget is maybe $12 million a year. Uh, uh, we have a budget of about three times that just for the month. Uh, so I think that, uh, our ability to manage large systems, uh, and to, uh, execute, uh, I think has been made clear over the last couple of years. Uh, and certainly, in terms of, uh, the legislation that I’ve passed just dealing with this issue post-Katrina, uh, of how we handle emergency management. The fact that, uh, many of my recommendations were adopted and are being put in place, uh, as we speak indicates to extent to which we can provide the kinds of support and good service that the American people expect.
Let’s take the last point first. Did Barack Obama pass legislation bearing his recommendations for emergency management? A list of “actions” taken by Obama in the wake of Katrina compiled by a supporter doesn’t exactly lend itself to that conclusion. Once one strips out all of the speeches, the actual legislative actions appear to mostly consist of adding his name as co-sponsor to the bills of others, and it’s unclear whether any of the bills Obama did introduce ever passed.
Even if they did, it gives him no experience at managing disasters. Governors and mayors have to manage disasters, and when they succeed, they save lives. When they fail, as we saw in Katrina, it costs lives. Legislators have no role in disaster management itself, although honestly, disaster management isn’t usually a resumé point when voting for mayor, governor, or President. Whatever impulse exists now to make it one stems from the irrational blame heaped on George Bush for the failures of Ray Nagin and Kathleen Blanco in Katrina, although FEMA certainly had its failures as well.
But the main point here is that Obama didn’t really answer the question, and he set up a straw man argument in response to Cooper. Governor Palin is, well, governor, and not currently the mayor of Wasila. As Governor, Palin operates a $9 billion budget, and manages $13 billion in revenue. Furthermore, she runs a government that employs 25,000 people.
Obama blithely pretends that she’s still the mayor of “Wasilly” in order to boost himself. However, running for office isn’t executive experience, for one good reason: Obama isn’t the campaign manager. He has a CEO actually running the campaign, handling the budget, and managing the people while Obama makes the speeches.
If this is Obama’s best response on the experience question, the attacks on Palin’s experience will have to stop, unless the campaign wants Obama to keep embarrassing himself while making it.
Update: The McCain campaign has responded to Mark Halperin at Time:
“For Barack Obama to argue that he’s experienced enough to be president because he’s running for president is desperate circular logic and it’s laughable. It is a testament to Barack Obama’s inexperience and failing qualifications that he would stoop to passing off his candidacy as comparable to Governor Sarah Palin’s executive experience managing a budget of over 10 billion dollar dollars, and more than 24,000 employees.” —Tucker Bounds, spokesman John McCain 2008
By that standard, anyone who ever ran for any public office has executive experience — and that also kills their own experience argument against Palin anyway.