Saturday, April 12, 2008


This morning I was watching the film, RKO 280. In 1941, RKO Pictures made news when they gave an unprecedented contract to a 25 year old "boy genius" named Orson Welles. Welles, a product of the New York stage and radio, was to write, direct and star in a film, the script of which hadn't even been written yet. A year and a half earlier he had made national news when his radio adaptation of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds, written as an ongoing, "live" newscast, had much of the country believing that the planet Earth was being invaded by Martians. When Welles and company arrived on the RKO sound stage to commence with the production of his film, he had absolutely no idea how to make a movie. All he had was a vision and he needed to translate that vision to the crew that would be working with him. As a result of his lack of any preconceived notions regarding the mechanics of film making, he would merely ask RKO for the seemingly impossible and think nothing of it. The technicians responded to the challenge. The result was Citizen Kane, undoubtedly the greatest American movie ever made.
This got me to thinking about the argument that has been made in some political circles - Right and Left - with regard to Barack Obama and his lack of experience. If history is to be any guide (and it usually is a very reliable one) Senator Obama's so-called "lack of experience" might be just what this troubled country needs at the moment. As the legendary New York Governor Al Smith used to say, "Let's look at the record":
Dwight D. Eisenhower was the last Republican president worth a damn. It was he who, in the waning hours of his term of office, had the foresight to warn the American people of the dangers of "the acquisition of misplaced power, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex." Ike had absolutely no political experience before he was elected to the presidency in 1952. He had never held elective office before in his life. He was a military man! And yet (domestically anyway - we won't get into his atrocious foreign policy) he is thought of today as a fairly good and competent chief executive.
Barack Obama has more experience than Franklin D. Roosevelt had when he took the oath of office on March 4, 1933. Roosevelt's total background as far as elected office is concerned, consisted of a brief stint in the New York State senate - twenty years before his presidency even began - and a single, fairly uneventful term as governor of New York. At the time many people were viewing Roosevelt's election as an accident of history. His own cousin Alice Roosevelt Longworth (Teddy's daughter) would famously dismiss him as "a feather duster". Like Orson Welles, Franklin Roosevelt came to his vocation with no preconceived notions as to what constituted a successful presidency. The first few months of his administration were noted for its broad and bold experimentation. It worked. Although the New Deal was not without its flaws, it was responsible for the creation of a middle class that had not even existed before its implementation. FDR is, I believe, one of the greatest presidents in American history.
Theodore Roosevelt, is also in the pantheon of great American presidents. It is not by accident that his image is carved for all eternity into the side of Mount Rushmore. TR's accumulative political and legislative experience was a as a New York State Assemblyman and, like his distant cousin Franklin, serving a single term as governor of New York. (Coincidentally, both men would also serve as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, TR under William McKinley; FDR under Woodrow Wilson). Roosevelt had been serving as vice president for a mere six months when in September of 1901, McKinley's assassination elevated him to the presidency. Theodore Roosevelt was the last great Republican president. It was his strong and unwavering belief that big business existed at the pleasure of the people - not the other way around. That is why he has been forgotten by the GOP. TR is today held up as an icon - not by the Republican Party - but by progressives. Life is funny that way, isn't it?
And while we're on the subject of "experience", let's take a look at the career of the only other great Republican president, Abraham Lincoln. Hillary Clinton is fond of saying that she and John McCain have years of experience between them and that all Barack Obama has is "a speech". Yeah, right. He does have a speech. Guess what old Abe Lincoln had in 1860 when his party nominated him to be their standard bearer. You guessed it: a speech. On June 16, 1858, in front of a thousand or more delegates at the Illinois State House, Lincoln proclaimed that:
"A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free."
That speech, which was carried in newspapers all across the country, did more than anything to cement Lincoln's national reputation. His total experience had been a single term as a congressman from Illinois a full twelve years before the commencement of his administration and a couple of years in the Illinois legislature nearly three decades before. And yet, this totally green, obscure, prairie lawyer from Illinois would save this country from its darkest inclinations.
One-hundred and forty-eight years later, we have come face-to-face with another obscure, inexperienced politician from Illinois. Who knows? Maybe he is just what we've been waiting for.
Hillary Clinton's main talking point has been that she was a major player in the Clinton White House. I'm sure that's true. The only problem with that is the uncomfortable fact that her husband's two terms in office were a disaster for the country in general and progressive politics in particular. America does not need a second Clinton administration. If she is handed the nomination at the Democratic Convention in Denver this summer, John McCain, beyond any doubt, will be the next president of the United States. But let's give the poor, pathetic woman the benefit of the doubt and say that she does have a chance at being elected in November. What would that mean? Just look at all of the scandals that have been brewing at the surface of one of the most disastrously run campaigns in recent memory! Do you really think that these silly people are going to get their act together by January 20, 2009? Think again.
Between you and me and the lamp post, both Senators Obama and Clinton have been so damaged during this primary season, the Democrats would be smart to come up with a "compromise candidate" that the convention could unite behind. But that's not likely to happen. Why? Because the best thing that can be said about the Dems these days is that they are not quite as dumb as the Republicans. That being the case, I'll take newcomer Barack Obama over the "experienced" Hillary Clinton any day of the week.
"The consequences of war are dire, the sacrifices immeasurable. We may have occasion in our lifetime to once again rise up in defence of our freedom, and pay the wages of war. But we ought not travel down that hellish path blindly. Nor should we allow those who would march off and pay the ultimate sacrifice, who would prove the full measure of their devotion with their blood, to make such an awful sacrifice in vain."
Barack Obama
October 2003
Yeah. The only thing Barack Obama has going for him is a speech. And do you know what? It's a damned good one! Honest Abe would be proud.
Tom Degan
Goshen, NY
With Malice Toward None:
The Life of Abraham Lincoln
by Stephan B. Oates
Photograph to the left of column is of Orson Welles, circa 1942.


At 12:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You hit yet another "homerun".
"War of the Worlds" played to peoples' fears, and quite effectively.
Seems that the current administration picked up on that tactic, Ashcroft (code yellow), take off your shoes, limit shampoo, and all the other BS that the people are willing to tolerate.
All contrived to feed the need for security despite the fear. Can we please give the telecoms immunity for complicity with pissing on the 4th Amendment?
Barack's strength is that he's not appealing to those urges of insecurity in the populace.
He offers "hope".
It seems to me that that (along with directed effort) trumps fear everytime.
Let's all build something better than what we have.
"We have nothing to fear but fear itself."

At 9:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Obama appeals to me because of his lack of experience, not in spite of it. Anyone who has been a part of the system long enough to gain "experience" is de facto a part of the problem and unlikely to be a problem solver.
Even more important than experience is the ability to think on one's feet and respond with intelligence and courage when faced with new challenges.
I choose the inexperienced one who speaks of hope and unity over the experienced one who is a liar and a phony!
Even if Obama turns out to be only half as good as he seems, it will be a good thing for this country.
Great essay!
-fearless flower

At 9:20 AM, Blogger Len Hart said...

Great article, Tom. And thanks for the illustrative reference to Orson Welles. Welles is credibly quoted as having said that everything you needed to know to make a movie, you could learn in two days. Well, perhaps that's true for SOME folk. Welles was clearly gifted. Again ---thanks for the article.

At 10:08 AM, Blogger Tom Degan's Daily Rant said...

Dear Len,
I was in Toronto, Canada the night Orson Welles died. Although he had lived to be a fairly ripe old age, the news depressed me nonetheless. Such a great and underapreciated talent. Late that evening, I was in a diner on the outskirts of the city when I heard one person say to another, "Did you hear that Orson Welles died today?" To which his companion replied, "Oh, you mean that fat guy on the wine commercials?"

I was tempted to walk up to the guy and scratch him.


Tom Degan

At 12:02 PM, Blogger charles moore said...


Thanks for another great article. I am glad to see that you are finally, even if reluctantly, hitching on to the Obama band wagon. With regards to experience, one thing that most people keep forgetting or are unaware of is that as the late, great Molly Ivens pointed out, our current beloved Jugeared Jackass in the Out House (I mean White House) had practically no experience. He likes to brag about being "Gubner of Tex-Ass" but the Texas governor has less power than any other in the entire country. Indeed, Bush did almost nothing but sign death warrants.

At 3:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Strictly speaking, Tom, Eisenhower was only "commander in chief" as regards foreign policy - using the military domestically was, until recenly, a violation of the Posse Comitatus act.

At 9:11 PM, Blogger Tom Degan's Daily Rant said...

Excellent point, anonymous. Your point has been well taken and alterations have been implemented.

Keep 'em comin'!


At 12:25 AM, Blogger IrishPoet said...

excellent 'rant'...well written justification for why Obama is the ONLY choice (of the 3 we have left) to be the next President of the US, and I believe he WILL be and excellent leader to take us out of the doom and despair we have lived under for the first 7+ years of this new century (does anyone remember when the NEW century seemed so promising?!)

At 9:18 AM, Blogger daisy said...

i believe i called you doing some funraising yesterday. you told me to check out your blog, and i did.

this is really great stuff. i will pass it along to my friends!!

At 4:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tom -- I'm the one who flashed you the peace sign in my car.

One question : do you think, even if Obama (or Hillary) wins the election, that this country can ever really recover from Bush's destructive, uncompassionate,
maladroit administration? ==

Alyx (thanks for your blog. I was, however, extremely disappointed that you did not actually invent Cheez Wiz. You just had to turn my dreams into dust, didn't you?

At 4:39 PM, Blogger alyx said...

Tom -- I was the one who f;ashed you the peace sign from my car.

One question: do you believe that, even with a Democratic (esp. Obama) presidency, this cou try can ever recover from the maladroit ravages pf the present "administration"?

-Alyx. (By the way, I was extremely disappointed that you did not actually invent Cheez Wiz. Must all my dreams turn to dust?)


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home