In a general, Obama won’t be running against Clinton, he’ll be running against McCain, a politician that has actually taken political risks and endured the wrath of party hacks in order to make progress on real issues: “What has Obama done? Show me a single issue or piece of legislation where Obama has done something politically unpopular in order to move forward toward a greater goal.” I pointed out that this argument hasn’t made much of a difference so far. Ah, replied the adviser, “That’s because Clinton can’t show that she’s done it, either.” What’s more, he said, the press will stop giving Obama a free ride in the general. McCain will be out there, holding court on his bus or his plane, providing unfettered access to both reporters and voters, and journalists will no longer be able to ignore Obama’s lack of access and lack of interaction with real people. In fact, it’ll be the only thing they talk about.
Both Ezra Klein and Ross Douthat seem to me to be unduly impressed by this argument. It’s true that the press corps will jizz all over itself for John McCain, but that kind of thing will only take him so far. In terms of getting things done, what’s John McCain ever accomplished? Beyond a minor, years-old procedural reform to the campaign finance system — nothing. And he’s had much more time in Washington in which to get something done. But in McCain’s past 25 years in congress he’s managed to author not a single piece of legislation that’s been signed into law that helps any real people with any real problems. He’s spent a lot of time posturing on the Sunday shows, and affiliated himself with a few pieces of modestly progressive legislation that didn’t get passed, and then disavowed all those bills.
More broadly, though McCain is a formidable candidate in some respects, “experience” is the time-honored election argument of losers. If voters really valued experience, then veteran senators would be getting elected president all the time. Instead, it almost never happens because normal people don’t think that long duration in congress — an institution that’s invariably incredibly unpopular — is an appealing character trait.