Many Americans have been told by the media that John McCain has more experience. The “right” experience, in the words of the recent LAT poll. Well, it’s undeniable that McCain has more experience, but the current framing of this issue is inherently unfair and misleading. The truth is that in a fair comparison, Obama is the far more experienced candidate.
In 1983, McCain was 47 years old – the same age as Obama is today. Through family connections and family wealth, he was able to win a hotly contested primary and then a general election as a member of the US House of Representatives. He had previously worked in PR at his father-in-law’s company, and served 22 years in the US Navy, retiring with the rank of captain. He led a small training squadron (apparently ably), and also acted as the Navy’s liaison to the US Senate. He did not earn a major sea command. He had struggled at Annapolis, and barely managed to graduate. His record as a pilot was checkered.
In 2008, Obama has already leapfrogged McCain at the same point in his life by entering the US Senate two years ago. Obama has routinely garnered academic achievements and honors, including the highly coveted and prestige presidency of the Harvard Law Review. He has taught Constitutional Law at one of the nation’s most prestigious law schools for over a decade, written a best-selling book about forging a new way forward for America, and spent decades as a community organizer helping deserving Americans get the break they needed to get ahead.
The “experience gap” is really nothing more than the “age gap.” I can speculate about what Obama might have accomplished by his 72d birthday – more accolades, more concrete change, more leadership. (No need to speculate about McCain since age 47 – he’s mostly been an extremely conservative doctrinaire Senator from a conservative state with a gift for seeming to be on all sides of every issue.) But without that speculation being added into the mix, comparing Obama at 47 to McCain at 72 becomes nothing more than saying that one of these candidates is 25 years older than the other one.
If Obama’s experience is not “right,” or “enough,” or “adequate,” that’s because he is 47 years old. If the American people think 47 is simply too young to be President, that it certainly their prerogative. As is their right to think that 72 is simply too old. But to dress this age-ism up as “experience gap” is misleading.