Hillary Clinton is a woman. Barack Obama is black. Yet their quest for the Democratic nomination is not contingent upon these actualities. Given the proper qualities, temperament, and political savvy, the right candidate could overcome any prejudices based on gender and race. As recent events have shown, the voters are focusing on that one attribute that can be identified and quantified: experience.

Experience, as Slate magazine headlined, is “Obama’s Achilles’ Heel.” Gallup and other pollsters have shown that experience is the principal reason that the public prefers Hillary to Obama. The recent “You Tube” debate in South Carolina turned out to be “strike two” for Obama when he said that as president, he would meet with the leaders of Iran, Venezuela, North Korea, Syria, and Cuba in his first year in office.

Hillary pounced on this gaffe, calling Obama “irresponsible and naive.” In the ensuing days, pundits and commentators have referred to Obama’s lapse as a turning point in the presidential race. Obama’s strong suit, according to Slate’s John Dickerson, is the fact that he is new, fresh, and inspiring. But “fresh” can be another term for green, newborn, or just beginning – and Obama has been playing catch up since his entry in the race, to show he is just as able to lead as is Hillary.

As The Wall Street Journal put it, “Barack Obama is known mainly for his biography, his charisma and his early opposition to the Iraq war.” The picture of Obama is still emerging, says the paper, and he is “just beginning to fill in the blanks.” His Senate record is brief, but he appears to be somewhat to the left in Hillary. For example, Obama’s health care proposal would cover all individuals by the end of his first term. His political strategy, meanwhile, is being shaped by two former economic advisers to President Bill Clinton: David Cutler and Jeffrey Liebman, both graduates of Harvard. So far, most of Obama’s public utterances on such topics as health care, taxes, and energy issues have been based on advice from Cutler, Liebman, and other policy advisers, and thus seem more Clintonesque than examples of Obamanomics.

The fact that the dust-up between Hillary and Obama more than a week ago is still in today’s headlines is due in large part to the Hillary campaign’s obsession with the incident, in that it focuses on Obama’s greatest deficiency – his lack of experience. As The Wall Street Journal put it, “Obama appears to be still shopping for a place in the political spectrum.” On the other hand, Hillary Clinton has been involved in significant senatorial issues and has been cultivating the mantle her husband won during his presidency. The sordid Lewinsky affair aside, the American public is forgiving and adoring to a fault, and Bill Clinton’s achievements while in office qualify him as a middle-tier “good president,” according to such celebrated historians as the late Arthur Schlesinger.

On the positive side, Obama for now is enjoying a high and positive national profile. His fund-raising abilities are exceptional, outpulling Hillary in contributions from such high profile donors as Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Inc., and JP Morgan Chase & Co. He also matched Hillary dollar for dollar in donations from Time Warner and Viacom, Inc.

But meanwhile, the Republicans are treating Hillary as a shoo-in for the Democratic nomination. The Republicans, in their fund-raising appeals, are churning out alarmist literature warning of high taxes, a burdensome health care plan, and a return to liberal politics, should Hillary occupy the White House. Even more frightening, caution the Republicans, is a return of Bill Clinton as “first husband” to perhaps be a proxy president and, at the very least, install a two-sided partners desk in the Oval Office. Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, quoted in Slate magazine, brings up his home-state knowledge of the Clinton family: “No one knows Hillary Clinton better than I do, and I will tell you it’s not a good idea to put either of them back in the White House.”

Perhaps the specter of Bill and Hillary living once again at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for the next eight years will be enough to overcome Obama’s current negative image as lacking experience. Also on the positive side, he is no Beltway insider, nor has he been labeled “a creature of Washington.” Yet his poor performance in the South Carolina debate and the shelf life it seems to be enjoying, point to his inexperience on the campaign trail as well as in the foreign policy arena and crisis management. As columnist Charles Krauthammer recently wrote in The Washington Post, “These mistakes lead to one of two conclusions: (1) Obama is inexplicably unable to think on his feet while standing on South Carolina soil, or (2) Obama is not ready to be a wartime president.”

– Chase.Hamil

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