Funny, isn’t it, how the most complex political choices can sometimes be reduced to two simple words: experience, or judgment?
In the US, Barack Obama says his judgment is a better bet than John McCain’s experience. And here in the UK, the Conservative leader David Cameron says the same about the choice British voters will face between him and Gordon Brown.
But why is it, do you think, that if the opinion polls are right, financial melt-down is good for Mr Brown’s ratings – presumably because voters think they’d rather stick with what they’ve got in times of crisis – but also good for Mr Obama, who seems to be benefitting from US voters’ conclusion that it’s time they kicked the current bunch out?
In the UK, we seem to rally round the incumbent; in the US, they seem to do the opposite. Ah, the endless fascination of politics!
I stayed up late again last night to watch the vice-presidential debate. The Palin/Biden choice is not so much judgment against experience, but rather two-years-as-governor experience against 36-years-as-senator experience.
And there’s no rule in American politics that says Senatorial experience is necessarily better than Gubernatorial experience. After all ex-Governor Jimmy Carter, ex-Governor Ronald Reagan, ex-Governor Bill Clinton and ex-Governor George W Bush all made it to the White House.
And it’s worth remembering amid all the scorn poured on the governor of a remote state like Alaska that neither the peanut farmer from Georgia (Carter) nor the red-neck from Arkansas (Clinton) were exactly well-versed in international affairs when they first took office.
Having said which, how did the young Governor do against the not-so-young Senator? Did she screw up? No, she did not. Did she embarrass the Republican ticket? Again, no. Did she manage to claw back some of the credibility she lost over the past week or so? (One poll suggested that more than half of America’s voters regarded her as unfit to be President.) Yes, I think she did.
Governor Palin was folksy, smiley and, mostly, self-assured. Senator Biden was controlled, not always so good at connecting with the audience, but managed not to come across as patronising or bullying.
He concentrated on attacking John McCain rather than Sarah Palin – and he returned to the attack again and again. And about 20 minutes from the end, there was real emotion when he spoke of the difficulties his own family has been through: for a moment, it looked as if he was about to choke up.
On substance, I reckon Senator Biden was the clear winner. No real surprise there. But if Governor Palin’s task was to look credible and to defend John McCain, well, she succeeded. But the opinion polls all seem to be going Barack Obama’s way at the moment, and tonight the House of Representatives votes on the bank rescue plan.
So although I’m glad I stayed up to watch the debate, my guess is that by Monday, it’ll be forgotten. Because on Tuesday, there’s the second of the Obama-McCain encounters. I’ll be watching.