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World's most powerful job:  Does experience matter?

Created on July 28, 2009

World's most powerful job:  Does experience matter?

Are You Experienced, Mr. President?  Americans Reassess Job Performance

By Ken McIntyre

Two weeks before he officially became the Democrats' nominee for president, some supporters of Barack Obama told a Pew survey they were "most troubled" by the "personal abilities and experience" of the freshman senator from Illinois.

Admirers pointed out that, with seven years in the state Senate and four in the U.S. Senate, Obama stacked up pretty well against another president from Illinois: Abraham Lincoln had logged eight years in the state legislature but only two in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt also served fewer years in elective office than Obama before becoming president, although each had held executive power as governor (Wilson in New Jersey, both Roosevelts in New York).

Nearly a year after that Pew poll and six months since President Obama moved into the White House, his relative lack of experience on the big stage -- not just his politics -- again is on Americans' minds.

From Obama's comments on bulls on Wall Street to a front-porch encounter in Cambridge, Mass., overconfident missteps in the world's biggest job became part of the story. Not to mention heart-skipping spikes in unemployment and government spending, "reforming" health care and taxing energy to "stop" global warming.

On the international scene, Obama's thin portfolio continued to draw criticism on everything from cutting defense, downplaying radical Islam and closing Gitmo to how the president views the Iranian threat, Russian ambitions and the Latin American dictators' club.

"After months of showing sky-high job approval ratings, polls from major newspapers and from the Pew and Gallup organizations gave Obama the lowest numbers of his presidency," Ben Smith blogs at Politico.com. "He is less popular than either George W. Bush or George H.W. Bush at this point in their presidencies, though more popular than Bill Clinton was after seven months in office."

Pew reports: "Majorities now say they disapprove of the way the president is handling ... two issues [the economy and the federal budget]. The new poll also finds significant declines over the last few months in the percentage of Americans giving Obama high marks for dealing with health care, foreign policy and tax policy."

When it bears on the soundness of public policy, Heritage's analysts don't hesitate to note the relevant experience of a president, his Cabinet and their advisers.

"I've spent the last 30 years trying to achieve affordable health coverage for all Americans, so it's frustrating to see the obsession with a 'public plan' making it impossible for reasonable people from both parties to come together," writes Stuart Butler, Heritage's vice president for domestic policy studies. "At best the public plan is a distraction from this effort. At worst, and more likely, it will kill the chances of successful reform. It's time for President Obama to pull the plug on it."

Kim Holmes, Heritage's vice president for defense and foreign policy studies, sees a danger in relying on rhetoric.

"In the past, when America chose to flex its diplomatic muscle with the backing of its military might, the results were clear," Kim says. "While his statements are correct, Barack Obama's actions as president have done little to demonstrate actual commitment to forging a policy that combines America's military power with its diplomatic authority."

About a third of voters (34 percent) now believe the United States is heading in the right direction, a new Rasmussen poll finds, but nearly twice as many (61 percent) say the country is moving down the wrong track.

"Mr. Obama was not ready for prime time when he was elected to office and he's sadly little more ready to lead the nation at this time," liberal blogger Bonnie Erbe writes on USNews.com. "He continues to try to be all things to all people and he continues to lose the support of his base as he does so." 

Americans, Heritage constitutional scholar Matthew Spalding has urged, cannot fully understand or respond to Obama's policies unless we re-embrace the nation's founding principles -- including unchanging truths and government based on the consent of the governed.

"Over the past century," Spalding says, "the federal government has lost many of its moorings and today acts with little concern for the limits in the Constitution, disregarded by many as an obsolete document."

This isn't about "returning to the 18th century, or the 1950s -- or the 1980s for that matter," Spalding stresses:

"It is about recalling the timeless principles that guide us in making practical decisions in accord with those principles, to regain our grounding so that we can think prudentially about the great policy questions of our time."