I skipped Saturday’s debates, but I did catch most of the audio when NPR re-aired it Sunday afternoon and watched a bit of Sunday’s Republican debate. And as I studied this high-concentration of presidential politics, a single theme bubbled up to me:
The Republicans, as a general rule, argued about what each had done.
The Democrats, as a general rule, argued about what each had said.
Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee squabbled about who had done what about taxes in their home states when they were governors. Rudy Giuliani touted his accomplishments in eight years of leading New York City. John McCain talked about commanding a fighter wing in the Navy.
On the Democratic side, they don’t really have long histories of accomplishments to tout. Hillary has claimed extensive government experience, but never held a security clearance during her husband’s administration — and her bravest moment was a flight into a “war zone” — one so dangerous she only felt safe if she traveled with her daughter, Sheryl Crowe, and Sinbad. John Edwards, when you boil it down, is a one-term senator who would not have been re-elected and a failed vice-presidential candidate. Replace “made his fortune off the misery and suffering of others” with “family money,” and he’s this generation’s Dan Quayle. And Barack Obama is a first-term Senator with absolutely zero accomplishments beyond exploiting his charisma to keep getting to higher and higher office.
The sole exceptions to this seem to be Bill Richardson, who has considerable executive experience (ambassador, cabinet secretary, and governor), and Fred Thompson, a Senator who is also an accomplished lawyer, prosecutor, and actor.
I thought that one factor might be that the Democrats have only had one president in the last 28 years (albeit for two terms), but that doesn’t seem to be a big factor. Giuliani got an early leg up from the Reagan administration, but Huckabee and Romney rose on their own without any help from the White House.
And I’m not quite certain what it all means, but it strikes me as somehow relevant that the clear majority of the frontrunning candidates on one side have a history of accomplishments, while the others only have a list of promises and ideas.