The weekend's political chess game included the following moves: Democrats saying Gov. Sarah Palin is inexperienced, Republicans saying that Sen. Barack Obama is less experienced, Democrats saying Obama is experienced because he successfully ran a national campaign-and some saying that his brainpower and writing ability (Harvard Law Review, two well-crafted books) should count as well.
What to make of this? It's not easy to run a national campaign, particularly when it's not working, but the Obama strategy-concentrate on caucus states-worked brilliantly. Obama never had to change course and fire friends. It's a lot different working with people committed to you and riding a winning streak than it is to have to depend on opponents. Obama talks about common ground but never had to find a patch of it to survive.
The book-writing defense led me to think of Richard Nixon's book Six Crises, which dealt with political and diplomatic battles of various kinds. Obama's books are about himself. He did have to deal with lots of personal crises, including growing up without a father and searching (as a bi-racial person) for identity. Those, however, are not the crises that a president wakes up to every morning.
Fifteen of our 43 presidents have had experience as senators, but only two-Warren Harding and John F. Kennedy-came to the White House directly from the Senate. Americans generally understand that executive experience is important in presidential candidates, which is why so many were governors. Senatorial experience is useful when it has involved many years in the legislative rough-and-tumble, but Obama doesn't even have that. It could be argued that Obama, were he to move into the Oval Office, would be the least experienced of all our elected presidents.