Sarah Palin and all that campaign nonsense about ‘experience’

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I hesitate to add to the flood of half-informed opinionating about John McCain’s veep pick that is already causing the Internet’s tubes to overflow. But by choosing a woman less than two years into her first term as Alaska governor, who just six years ago was mayor of a town of 6,000 (or so), McCain raises some interesting questions about political experience and how much of it a president or v.p. really needs.

Political experience has not been a useful predictor of success (or failure) in the White House in the past. Also, Sarah Palin has more administrative experience than McCain, Obama and Biden combined. McCain has decades of Capitol Hill experience, of course, as does Biden, but it’s hard to say what that means given that only one person with 20+ years of Capitol Hill experience (Lyndon Johnson) has made it to the White House in the past century.

Look outside government into the private sector, where there’s much more data, and the general sense I get from the likes of Rakesh Khurana’s Searching for a Corporate Savior and Jim Collins’s Good to Great is that the most effective CEOs are people who rise up through the ranks–not purported superstars lured from other companies.

But I’m not quite sure how to convert that into presidential terms. It’s not as if anybody’s trying to bring Nicolas Sarkozy over to run things here. I guess it does suggest that having a variety of different political experiences might be helpful, since rising corporate stars are often given a variety of jobs within a company to test their abilities and give them a more complete understanding of how to manipulate the levers of power within the organization. Then again, if what we want is a president especially adept in manipulating the levers of power to get things accomplished in Washington, then why don’t we just go and elect Tommy Boggs?

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