My big, fat Washington resume

Last night Gov. Sarah Palin put a pithy label on the conventional government experience that has been routinely dismissed and dissed in this presidential campaign: a “big, fat resume.”

“We’ve got to remember what the desire is in this nation at this time,” she told Charlie Gibson. “It is for no more politics as usual and somebody’s big, fat resume maybe that shows decades and decades in that Washington establishment, where, yes, they’ve had opportunities to meet heads of state.”

Of course, the “Washington establishment” has become a dirty word, too, along with “Washington insiders,” conjuring images of slow-moving, sold-out, white-haired men.

If you happen to be white haired and have spent decades in Washington, you must recast that liability, painting yourself as a “maverick” or forcefully calling for change.

When Sen. Joe Biden was introduced as Sen. Barack Obama’s VP choice, he made a point to distinguish between experience and age, framing his resume delicately. “In all my time in the United States Senate,” he said, “and I want you to know there’s only four senators senior to me, but Barack, there’s still 44 older than me. …Of all my years in the Senate, I have never in my life seen Washington so broken. I have never seen so many dreams denied and so many decisions deferred by politicians who are trying like the devil to escape their responsibility and accountability. But, ladies and gentlemen, the reckoning is now. …These times call for a total change in Washington’s worldview.”

The Obamas have helped recast Biden’s experience. Both Barack and Michelle have pointed out the train ride he takes home every day — the time he spends outside D.C. — stressing it as one of his most outstanding characteristics, proof that he is still “in touch” in spite of the fact (not because of) he’s a longtime senator.

We’ve heard this before
The dismissal a “big, fat” Washington resume is a familiar argument. It’s one we’ve heard from  Obama, the community organizer, for months. He made that case in the heated race against Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, whose husband knocked his short resume.

Obama called the former presidents’ comments “ironic,” pointing out on “Good Morning America” that Clinton answered questions about his experience during his presidential run in 1991 and 1992.

“He argued, rightly at the time, that the question was, ‘Did you have the experience rooted in the real lives of people that could bring about real change?'” Obama said. “And I believe I have that experience and increasingly the people around Iowa, New Hampshire, and around the country agree.”  

Oprah Winfrey rejected the big, fat resumes of longtime politicians when she stumped for Obama last December. “Experience in the hallways of government isn’t as important to me as experience on the pathway of life,” she said.

Palin is now making a similar point, but arguing that her particular pathway held greater value than Obama’s. In her RNC acceptance speech, she said, “I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities.”

Palin’s word choice is an apt summary of the general dismissal of veteran politicians that has marked this unusual campaign, profoundly shaped by the unpopular president and the worrisome war and the flagging economy and the desire for change.

A “big, fat resume” sums up a lot and also misses a lot. It suggests that a long resume is bloated, out of shape, even superfluous, like the over-the-top wedding it initially described. A resume, meanwhile, is a significant reduction of experience, suggesting that years of long meetings and eye-opening encounters in D.C. are nothing more than bullet points, enhanced by active verbs and parchment paper.

Will a shorter resume and, presumably, fresher perspective, win over voters? Will it work in the Oval Office?

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