Why Barack Obama Wins on the Experience Issue

This is one of those times in presidential politics when the public is hungry for change. Even the Republicans running for president are running away from George W. Bush.

This is hardly the first time in recent memory when the public has been ready for a change. And when that is the mood of the country, the candidate who wins is the one who offers the most inspiring vision, not the one who points to the longest resume.

In 1960, JFK promised to get the country moving again and he defeated the more experienced Vice President Nixon.

In 1976, Jimmy Carter promised to move the country away from the corruption of Watergate and he defeated the more experienced President Ford.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan promised to move the country away from Carter's seeming ineptitude and he defeated the more experienced President Carter.

In 1992, Bill Clinton campaigned as a change agent, calling for a move away from the economic policies of the Reagan-Bush years and he defeated the more experienced President Bush.

In fact, in the past half century, the candidate with the most experience has won in only two situations: where the opposing candidate's policies were widely unpopular (Goldwater in 64 was too far to the right and McGovern in 72 was too far to the left) or where the voters were happy with the incumbent (Eisenhower in 56, Reagan in 84, Bush running as the incumbent VP and Reagan heir in 88, Clinton in 96, and, thanks to 9/11, Bush in 04). In none of these elections could the challenger persuade the public that a fundamental change was needed. Thus, experience and familiarity won out.

Barack Obama is clearly the agent of change in this election. He opposed the war in Iraq from the beginning, at a time when the war was popular and other candidates were lining up to vote for it. He has had the vision to call for a new direction in foreign policy. He has the personal credibility to restore America's moral leadership in the world. He has the courage to suggest new approaches and has written two best selling books that lay out with an incredibly rare candor who he is and what he wants to do. He has a history of successfully bringing different groups together to fashion creative solutions to real problems, rather than just offering the same tired slogans. To protect his independence as an agent of change,he has refused money from Washington lobbyists and PACs. It is his promise of real change that explains why he is now leading in the polls in Iowa and gaining ground in New Hampshire.

Even Hillary Clinton seems to have conceded as much. She has taken increasingly to pointing to what she believes is her more extensive experience (which consists of fewer years in elected public office than Senator Obama has, but a lot of years of being married to an elected official).

But Barack Obama has the right kind of experience -- the kind that gave him the judgment to be right on Iraq, the skill to achieve success as a legislator, and the courage to offer a bolder vision of what we can be as a nation. The public understands that what matters is not the number of years on your resume, but what kind of man or woman those years have made you. And becasue that is the test, Barack Obama will win on the experience issue.