Clinton v Obama: A quick word on experience

Every now and then I hear people say things like this:

Barack Obama had enough life experience by October 2002 to utter the following words.

I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a US occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaeda.

I am not opposed to all wars. I’m opposed to dumb wars.

Hillary’s years of experience resulted in thne kind of judgement that helped get us in a dumb war.

This is what we call, stupid reasoning. First, the surface level issues with this comment, IE if being “right” about the War in Iraq four years ago is the criteria for who you vote for as president, then you’re saying that people like Pat Buchannon are qualified to be president.

But a deeper issue with this comment is the devaluing of experience. Let’s be clear here, if someone you loved were on the operating table awaiting surgery, you would never say “I don’t want that really experienced surgeon because he made a mistake four years ago, give me this inexperienced doctor who was right a long time ago.” In this instance you would clearly recognize that the best option would be the surgeon with years of experience to rely on.

The fact is, while experience does not make you infailiable, and sometimes experienced people are wrong, experience gives you a MUCH higher probability of being right than inexperience.

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24 thoughts on “Clinton v Obama: A quick word on experience

  1. It is not the idea of experience in my opinion, but the idea that he had the foresight to see what would happen in iraq. Foresight is rarely talked about, but is a very important aspect of politics. I love your blog, and it is nice to see what people other than me think, consider yourself blogrolled!

  2. Ddorsey

    Thanks for the support. I appreciate every reader I can get.

    As for experience v foresight. I think using foresight as a justification is a better argument than the Obama campaign and many Obama supporters have made thus far. But the fact that when it comes to Iraq your choices were “It would turn out well or it would turn out like this”, it greatly diminishes his “foresight” in my eyes.

    But I would still concede foresight sight if he had demonstrated foresight on additional foreign, and domestic, issues.

    But even if I grant that Obama has foresight, it doesn’t respond to Clinton’s point that it takes experienced leadership to navigate the landmined filled waters of DC. As Bill Clinton said many years ago, being right is not enough in politics. You have to be able to convince the American public, and twist the arms of politicians in Washington, if you want to get things done. We’ve been right since 2000. I’m tired of just being right, I want to win the game.

  3. Pat Buchanan is qualified to be Preisdent. America is on the operating table, and we’ve got to get rid of the cancer that is socialism. None of the Democrats are qualified to do that.

  4. Good judgement results in having the foresight of anticipating how things will likely turn out as the result of a given action.

    Buchanan DID have the foresight that enabled him to conclude that the invasion of Iraq was a bad idea. On that Buchanan demonstrated good judgement. I have a certain amount of resect for Buchanan.

    Hillary supported military action against Iraq. That showed little foresight and consequently bad judgement. Bill did not oppose it despite what he has said recently.

    Karl Rove has proven very adept at navigating Washington waters. Does that qualify him to be President?

  5. Gasdocpol

    The problem with your argument is that you’re equivocating the criteria for being president. When it comes to Obama you’re saying that his decision on Iraq represents his judgement as a whole, thus making him qualified to be president. But when it comes to Buchannan you claim that Iraq is only one particular instance of good judgement.

    The war in iraq can’t be the sum of someone’s judgement and a small part of another person’s judgement. Though to be fair, I suppose Obama doesn’t really have the experience to have made too many judgement calls in terms of foreign policy.

    Furthermore, I don’t think that the biggest boondoggle in recent political history should count against anyone’s foresight. FDR didn’t see Pearl Harbor coming, it’s not something that happens everyday, that doesn’t make his judgement poor. But that’s besides the point.

    Karl Rove has proven very adept at navigating Washington waters, and as far as political experience that does make him adept. However, and this is the difference between me and you, experience covers a wide range of issues whereas the war in Iraq is a sole instance of judgement. if there were a democratic version of Karl Rove who supported my political beliefs would be able to claim that he or she had the ability to navigate Washington waters. Nice try making a straw man. It didn’t work though.

    By the way, what other judgement has Obama made which would lead one to believe he has good judgement in general. What foreign policy judgements has he made? What domestic policies has he shown good judgement on? I mean the man didn’t even have the good judgement to support the idea of EVERY American having good health care.

  6. You make some good points and raise valid questions.

    1. I have some overall respect for Buchanan.Even when I disagree with his conclusions, I find that his arguments often have merit. Both he and Kucinich got it right about the Iraq war. I would much rather see Buchanan as President than Kucinich.

    2. In order to get it right about Iraq, Obama needed to have a depth and breadth of knowledge of international affairs that Hillary lacked.

    3. Obama has knowledge and a history of success in a number of issues .As a state legislator, Obama worked with both Democrats and Republicans in drafting successful legislation on ethics and health care reform. He sponsored a law enhancing tax credits for low-income workers, negotiated welfare reform, and promoted increased subsidies for child care. Obama also led the passage of legislation mandating videotaping of homicide interrogations, and a law to monitor racial profiling by requiring police to record the race of drivers they stopped. During his 2004 general election campaign for U.S. Senate, Obama won the endorsement of the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police, whose president credited him with having been “immensely helpful in working with police organizations” on death penalty reform.

    4. None of the leading candidates would have the credibility on the world stage that Obama has having opposed the Iraq invasion. We are going to have to restore our place in the world and clean up the mess that GW Bush has created. We will need help from the rest of the world to do that.

    I have served as an officer onboard ship for seven years and I have been a physician for almost 30 years. I think that I know good judgement when I see it.

  7. Phil…. You said on the subject of experience

    “But a deeper issue with this comment is the devaluing of experience. Let’s be clear here, if someone you loved were on the operating table awaiting surgery, you would never say “I don’t want that really experienced surgeon because he made a mistake four years ago, give me this inexperienced doctor who was right a long time ago.” In this instance you would clearly recognize that the best option would be the surgeon with years of experience to rely on.”

    I have been a physician since 1974 and working with surgeons for over 33 years. Does any of this make sense to you?

    1. Surgeons and physicians in general must make decisions based on incomplete information and come out right most of the time. (Some medical graduates who are not comfortable with this, wisely go into research as opposed to clinical medicine.)

    2. If any physician waited until he (she) was 100% certain of the diagnosis, the pathological process could worsen irreversibly and the patient would not be well served at the very least.

    3. Everyone makes mistakes. If you do not make mistakes , you are not doing anything.

    4. More “experience” does not automatically result in better judgement. It often does, but the relationship is extremely variable.

    5. “Making one mistake 4 years ago” is an oversimplification. If the decision was made based on inadaquate information and it was clear that this was an emergency situation , that is one thing. However if someone takes the same information and comes to a different conclusion, it could be said that the latter person has better judgement.

    6. I would argue that Hillary made the same mistake when she voted yes on the non-binding resolution th label The Iranian Guard as a terrorist organization. Further, I would argue that he insistance on pre-conditions for dialogue with other countries also suggests that her handle or “feel’ for international relations is not as good as that of Obama.

    7. Finally, I have seen surgeons (and other physicians) who come out of their residencies who hit the hit the ground running , with superb judgement and talent. I have seen others who have been mediocre or worse despite years and decades of “experience”.

    8. Indeed, some people, feel better being treated by older physicians. That is not my approach in chosing a doctor.

  8. gasdocpol

    In eight points you made 1 “argument”. That experience doesn’t mean better skill. Well gee, if only I had thought of that. It might have convinced me to write a line like :

    “The fact is, while experience does not make you infailiable, and sometimes experienced people are wrong, experience gives you a MUCH higher probability of being right than inexperience.”

    Oh wait… I did.

    PS. Your #6 is crap. Considering that 1. Obama actually CO-SPONSORED…a bill earlier in the year that labeled the Iranian Guard a terrorist organization 2 Obama didn’t even have the “judgement” to show up to vote on the bill and 3. Obama was the one who changed his position on meeting with foreign leaders in the first year.

  9. A. In retrospect . the decision to invade Iraq was a terrible idea from many points of view. DO YOU AGREE WITH THAT ?

    B. Obama’s reasons in October 2002 for opposing the war demostrated that he had a solid grasp of likely consequences of a US invasion of Iraq.

    “I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a US occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaeda.

    I am not opposed to all wars. I’m opposed to dumb wars.”

    With amazing foresight, he touched on all the reasons why it is now apparent to most people that the war has been a disaster.

    1. An occupation of undetermined duration etc.

    2. No clear rationale for the invasion

    3. No strong international support

    4. A negative reation by Arabs

    Apparently these were not strong considerations for Hillary.

    C. Since Hillary’s vast experience did not allow her to arrive at similar conclusions as Obama, whose conclusions turned out to be right, it is reasonable to conclude that , in this matter, the judgement of Obama was superior to that of Hillary.

    D. When push came to shove, Obama was right and Hillary was wrong.When the chips were down, Hillary got it wrong and Obama got it right.

    E. What was adaquate information for Obama was inadaquate information for Hillary. “If I had known then what I know now, I would not supported the war”

    F. You used the metaphore of a surgeon operating on a loved one. I like that. I have been working with surgeons for over 33 years. In “Physical Signs in Clinical Surgery” Bailley wrote ” The mark of a good clinician is to be able to make good decisions based on inadaquate information and be right most of the time” Obama was a better clinician than Hillary. Obama showed better judgement than Hillary.

    G. When you are talking about PROBABILITY, you are talking about sample size and bell shaped curves and standard deviation etc. In this case n=2 . When n=2 p=bullshit If you want to take a random sample of 100 subjects and plot their years of experience against some valid measure of judgement you would get something resembling a bell shaped curve. I submit that your use of the word probabilty does not rigorously apply here.

    H. In this very small sample of 2 subjects (n=2) we see that Obama clearly made the right decision and he gave valid reasons for that decision. (Unlike GW Bush who says “I go by my gut”) Now if everything else he said on every other topic did not also make sense, one could suspect that this was an isolated incident of a lucky guess.

    I. If Obama did co-sponsor a bill condemning Iran as you say, I concede the point. I do insist that Obama was right about not demanding pre-conditions for talking to iran and Syria.

    J. Again if experience does not result in better judgement it is worthless and deceiving.

    K. Do you think that the decision to invade Iraq was a demonstration of good judgement?

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