You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

Who's Sean Wilentz Calling Delusional?

If you haven't yet read Sean Wilentz's anti-Obama brief on our site, you should. I take Wilentz's point that the political press (myself included) is probably too enamored of Obama's biography--and the insight and instincts that we presume he's acquired from his life experiences. But, that said, I'm not really clear how Wilentz himself doesn't fall into that trap when assessing his own preferred candidate, Hillary Clinton.

Here's Wilentz making "a dynamic historical case" for Hillary to Newsweek:

I think Hillary is important because the election really is the culmination of what's been a 40 year struggle for the Democrats to rediscover who they are. A 40-year struggle against what we'll call Nixon-slash-Reaganism. And, simply put, she's in the best position to be a president. Which is to say, she understands how American politics works. She understands the trajectory of American political history for the last 40 years because she's lived it in a way that the others haven't, really. She's seen it at all levels, from Arkansas to Capitol Hill. The country needs someone who can take us beyond this struggle--this long, long fight we've been having. [Emphasis added.]

I suppose that Wilentz's support for Hillary is based on, as he puts it in his TNR piece, "prosaic credentials such as knowledge, experience, and sound policy proposals"--or at least the first two out of those three, as he doesn't mention any of Hillary's policy proposals in his interview with Newsweek. But Obama's supporters can make the same claim. Indeed, if you want to argue, as Wilentz does, that Hillary "understands how American politics works," then the fact that Obama has spent 10 years as an elected official--having served for 8 years in the Illinois State Senate before he came to the U.S. Senate in 2005--and that Hillary has spent only 6 years in elected office is pretty relevant.

But Hillary's knowledge and experience that Wilentz finds so impressive is, as he says, derived from the life she's led for the past 40 years. And if Hillary supporters like Wilentz believe that her time as the spouse of a governor and a president arm her with relevant knowledge and experience, then I don't think Obama's supporters are out of line in thinking that his time as a child in Indonesia and as a community organizer in Chicago imbue him with relevant knowledge and experience, as well.

In other words, I think that to a certain degree we're all guilty of projecting.

--Jason Zengerle