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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Obama turns the table on experience question

Here's an interesting item from the San Francisco Chronicle by editorial page editor John Diaz from last Sunday. Read Diaz's full editorial here and see the video here.

The questions were finished, but Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., was not. He had one more point to make before leaving his meeting with the Chronicle's editorial board.

"Why don't we go off the record on this," Obama said as he was standing up and pulling on his suit jacket Thursday.

At that point, I usually stop politicians. Ninety-five percent of the times they go off the record in a large meeting of journalists -in this case, there were 16 of us - their comments are not any more provocative or insightful than what they would say for attribution. And if they do say something revealing, we want to share it with our readers.

No objections were raised this time, however.

Obama proceeded to challenge the premise of our questions about experience. In the process, he helped answer a question about one job requirement of the presidency: the ability to confront people in a direct way.

"One thing, when this issue of experience comes up, I always ask the editorial boards to consider: Most of you spend enormous amounts of ink complaining about how broken the politics of Washington are; how sordid and inefficient and ineffective it is. And yet, during the course of campaigns or conversations, you're looking for validation in terms of how well does this person work the system that you are constantly decrying and saying is broken and doesn't work.

"I think it is important to ask: Do we need somebody who, in fact, does not speak in the very traditions that you say do not serve the American people? Are we willing to break out of that pattern?"

It was a fair point. It also was illustrative of another quality that came through repeatedly during our meeting at the St. Francis Hotel: his skill at delivering direct, pointed messages in a thoughtful, nonabrasive manner. I wanted to share that moment with our readers. I asked Obama to allow it to be on the record. He agreed.

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