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February 25, 2008
Barack Obama Makes the
Case: Experience and Inspiration Can Coexist
Sen. Barack Obama continues to gain momentum in the presidential race,
threatening to obliterate Sen. Hillary Clinton in the important March 4
primaries in Texas and Ohio, the common insult from the Clinton camp has
been that while Obama may have a way with words, Clinton has the
experience to ensure that her promises are kept.
This sentiment is trickling down to Clinton supporters like comedienne
Roseanne Barr, who wrote for The Huffington Post this week, “When
I fly in an airplane, I want the pilot with the most experience, not the
one who can inspire hope in me that I get to where I am going.”
Irrelevant comparisons and questions of Barr’s qualifications to speak
on such matters aside, this either/or binary is inherently flawed, and
Clinton and her supporters are mistaken in trying to make use of it.
First, why must it be one or the other? Obama is not without experience,
with seven years as an Illinois state senator and four as a U.S.
senator, plus decades of public service experience. Likewise, Clinton is
not without inspiration. She has won the hearts of many working-class
people who feel she is looking out for them. There is nothing about
experience and inspiration that make them necessarily opposed to each
is one thing for the media to divide the two Democratic candidates into
neatly defined categories, but the candidates insist on doing it to
themselves as well, sometimes to their own detriment. While focusing on
his ability to inspire has worked well for Obama so far, partly because
of the confidence he projects, Clinton’s insistence that she is the
experienced candidate has fallen flat.
Along with criticizing Obama’s recent mailers that dissect her stance on
health care reform, Clinton reminded her supporters in Cincinnati on
Saturday that Obama may talk a good game, but so did George W. Bush, and
look where that got us. “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice,
shame on me," she said to a crowd at Cincinnati State Technical and
But by focusing on her experience and not her ability to inspire,
Clinton further entrenches herself in the “more of the same” role, which
has largely contributed to her downfall. Experience is comfortable and
safe, but perhaps we’ve moved past post-September 11 fear to a time when
we want a candidate who makes us feel something. Fear and want of
security just isn’t going to cut it anymore.
Like it or not, the American people are looking for an
inspirational candidate, especially young people. During life at an Ohio
university, I am presented daily with evidence of this – jackets adorned
with Obama buttons, t-shirts with Obama’s image and the word “Progress.”
At a local bar on Friday night, I stumbled upon a sizeable Obama
gathering. Obama has a certain quality that young people can really get
behind; perhaps because for most of us, the only presidents we’ve known
have had the last name Clinton or Bush.
Maybe in some ways we long for a president that we can look upon with as
much reverence as our parents’ generation looked upon JFK. With an
African-American and a woman in the running, there has been a lot of
focus on how races and genders will cast their votes, while the young
demographic as a whole has been largely ignored.
Obama has been courting younger voters, with his moving Super
Bowl ad featuring young people in a crowd and hip music interspersed
with moving images of the Iraq War and Hurricane Katrina. After showing
this video to 23 of my 18-year-old students, along with ads from Sen.
McCain and Sen. Clinton, all but a couple agreed that Obama’s ad was
most likely to capture their attention and their eventual vote. Because
Obama is an inspirational candidate, he inspires you to believe him and
believe in him. That’s the advantage.
Ideally, America will end up with a president who embodies both
experience and inspiration, and provides security as well as hope. Maybe
all of Obama’s empowering speeches have made an optimist of me, but I
believe that both can exist in one individual.
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