The first nationally televised Presidential debates for both Democrats and Republicans highlighted a revealing distinction between the field of candidates for each of the two parties.
While superficial observers might focus on the greater diversity of the Democratic contenders (with one female, one black, and one Latino among them), the eight Dems and ten GOP’ers still showed a similarly disproportionate domination of dark-suited, white, middle-aged males – with a single seventy-something curmudgeon (John McCain for the GOP, Mike Gravel for the Dems) offering some feisty seasoning.
The most significant gap between the Democrats on the one hand and the Republicans on the other actually involved the nature of their political experience, not their ethnicity or age. All eight Democratic contenders have served in the United States Congress – and an amazing six of the eight are either current or former members of the US Senate. Only one of the Dems (Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico) has held a significant administrative office, though some thirty years ago Congressman Dennis Kucinich served a disastrous two years as the “boy mayor” of Cleveland.
On the Republican side, in dramatic contrast, four of the candidates (Romney, Jim Gilmore, Tommy Thompson, Mike Huckabee) have served as governors, and frontrunner Rudy Giuliani made his reputation as mayor of the nation’s largest city. While all the Democrats boasted Congressional experience, only half of the GOP contenders ever served in either House of the US Congress
These differences in background reflect far more than curious coincidence: they actually illuminate some of the profound differences in the way the two parties see the purpose and nature of politics.
In all of the elections of the last twenty-four years, among Presidential and Vice Presidential nominees the Republican Party put a consistently higher premium on administrative experience. Among the twelve GOP nominees for the two top offices in that period (since 1984), seven had previously served as governors or heads of federal cabinet-level departments; for the Democrats, the corresponding figure was three out of twelve (with nine candidates out of Congress).