March 31st, 2008
07:25 PM ET

When a candidate's background matters–or doesn't

As the Democrats continue their primary battle, John McCain has launched his biography tour as a way to re-introduce himself to voters. It will emphasize his half-century of public service highlighted by his military record and tremendous sacrifice.

But in an op-ed today, conservative commentator Bill Kristol argues biography alone won’t be enough for McCain to win in November. In fact, if you look back at the last four elections the candidates with stronger resumes all lost. And those four candidates, George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, Al Gore and John Kerry, were all war veterans.

But for some Democratic voters biography has played a role in their decision. Many of Obama’s supporters specifically point to his diverse background as a factor for choosing him over Clinton.

So how much does a candidate’s biography matter to you? Does McCain’s provide an edge over either Obama or Clinton in a general election match-up? Will the historic biographies of becoming the first women or African-American give Clinton or Obama an advantage?

Send us your thoughts.

– Eric Bloom, 360° Producer

Filed under: AC360° Staff • Raw Politics
soundoff (123 Responses)
  1. John

    To MPM,

    Obama chooses the right words before he speaks, because this is the intelligent thing to do. Unlike your candidate who miss spoke (lied) about bullets flying and running for cover.

    By the way, how could other world leaders trust Hillary after making a comment like that? Would they trust her?

    I think not, neither do I.

    April 2, 2008 at 4:10 pm |
  2. Ariane

    Many things about a person influence what kind of president they would be. I definitely don't think anyone should vote based on just ONE thing – like the fact someone is a woman or biracial or that 40 years ago they were a POW. Mostly I try to pay attention to what a person has done in their career, how much attention they pay to trying to learn the facts and hear different views- -(after the last 7 years we can seriously use some intellectual curiosity!), how well they have been able to work with both parties and persuade people in getting a bill passed, etc., how much in their career they have chosen service to other over higher pay for themselves etc.

    What is very disturbing to me is that, what with people today being so busy and/or having such a short attention span and not bothering to seek out more information, they can be so easily influenced by sensational media reports (including by CNN) that play on peoples strongest emotions and distort the truth. Major example = the Rev. Wright thing. I was shocked at "GD America" too, but it is so sad how these out-of-context clips, edited together and played over and over, with irresponsible commentary have led people to think this sums up this man and this church. How many people know that Rev. Wright is a former Marine, with 6 years of honorable military service? How many people have heard from whites who KNOW him, including church members? Those people do not think he is a racist. How many know that Wright didn't "blame white people for everything" but often spoke about the importance of responsibility for yourself and your family, education, work, etc?

    As a film editor I know well that the choice of clips and how they are edited has a huge influence on how people will react. One could also take Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr.'s angriest statements, edit them together and play them over and over with commentary about how horrible and unpatriotic this angry black preacher is – – and get the same reaction. I'm not equating the two but they are closer than is being portrayed.

    After the professional way CNN had dealt last year with exposing the lie about Obama's primary school in Indonesia, it was very disappointing that when confronted with a complex issue and partial truths, CNN just seemed to blindly follow the bad example of another network. It is great that some people are now checking out more for themselves, for example at the truthabouttrinity blog with links to longer sermon clips and letters/articles from people who are actually informed on the subject. But the media should have done the research to start with and approached it in a responsible way instead of going hysterical.

    I have visited Trinity multiple times and the main thing I saw and heard was a joyous faith in God, and a call to help those less fortunate. I also saw white people were warmly welcomed. And since I KNEW from personal experience that the truth about this was so different from how it was portrayed, this example has made it more difficult to trust the information we are getting about candidates' backgrounds.

    April 2, 2008 at 5:47 am |
  3. citizenwells

    Obama was absent from the Illinois Senate
    on November 4, 1999. His name was on 2 bills
    mentioned during that session.
    Does anyone know where Obama was on November 4?

    April 1, 2008 at 7:50 pm |
  4. onenibble

    Background does matter. Obama has ties to Rezco, Ayers, Rev. Wright, Louis Farrakhan, The New Black Panther Party, and other shady characters. I would not vote for Obama.

    April 1, 2008 at 6:56 pm |
  5. Erica B in D-T (Dallas,Texas)

    I think backgrounds do matter but in a limited view. Considering that we all have made mistakes in our lives at some point, backgrounds are learning experiences and it should not be the basis of judging a person's character in a present time

    April 1, 2008 at 4:49 pm |
  6. Cleo

    I think background can only come into play if we expect to redo history. So what McCain is a war vet, I don't want to be in a war for the next 4 years because as we have seen - when there is war and terror in the world nothing else matter. That means education, employment, homes, healthcare, etc - are not what is important, no one will discuss that Sally can't read pass 5th grade even though she is in 12th because we have to stop those darn terrorist. Terrorism wasn't invent on 9/11 but it seems that McCain wants everyone to believe it was and he is the super antique hero who can stop it because he's fought in previous wars. I don't want to relive the past that I read about (I'm only 23) in my history classes.

    I'm not saying that either Hilary or Obama background makes them a better but a candidate that focus only on one issue is useless to the American people because they are being hit from everyside and cannot just focus on one thing at a time. We have already experience 8 years of tunnel vision do we really want to throw away a vote for another 4 years of the samething.

    April 1, 2008 at 3:35 pm |
  7. To Agnes

    Correction 24 years of the Bush and Clinton administration has put this country where it is now, Obama is the only logical choice. Elect Hilary and we almost have a dictatorship going on between the Bushes and the Clintons.

    April 1, 2008 at 3:21 pm |
  8. Rob, Arvada, CO

    Anderson, please explain to these Clinton-folk that we have this remarkable phenomenon known as the Internet, Google, and Wikipedia. I am tired of hearing people say they don't know enough about Obama. It is all right there for you to see! From his books and biography, his senate record, community organizer, his website illustrating where he stands on the issues, all there! Clinton-folk don't understand this and choose to remain blind and deaf, and that is why the media needs to ram things down their throats, because they choose not to go seek the information themselves. We have all the information we need right here in the information age. That said, Barack Obama is our one and only hope for the office of President of the United States of America. God bless this great man!

    April 1, 2008 at 2:34 pm |
  9. deb in az

    i think it does matter, but all these candidates have padded their resumes.....i dont know what is truth anymore.......i know that i want the war to end and it needs to end now......i have 2 uncles that served in world war ll and the korean war.......this country has always been at war with someone throughout my life time.....bottom line for me is the proposed budget from each candidate,,,,,,what they would hope to accomplish in their term..........the final cost to the tax payer..........

    April 1, 2008 at 2:30 pm |
  10. MPM, CA

    I posted this before but did not get through the censors. Let me try it again...

    It's ironic that.....

    1) Most blacks voted for Obama because he's black. If you don't think this is true, then I beg to differ...

    Question: If color is the issue, why is Hillary loosing?

    2) Look at the news lately, Obama is getting the positive news and Clinton is getting the negative news. "Clinton owes 8.7 million", "Clinton should drop out", "Obama get's another endorsement", "Obama colleague pledges to him". Most men in the media, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, twitch when they mention her name...Most women in the media, don't like her because they are all intimidated by her.

    Question: Aren't there any writers left in the whole media world that can write anything positive about Hillary?

    3) Confidence against Eloquence – If you listen to Hillary in all the debates, she exemplifies confidence because she responds to issues quickly and forcefully. With Obama, he stutters as he chooses the right words and makes up beautifully formed sentences because deep inside he knows, that's the only way he can get away with it. Did you ever take a test and in the essay section you have no idea what the answer was so you fake it by using the beautifully made up sentences hoping you could get some sort of credit? That is what I think when I see Obama.

    Question: Why aren't we voting for Hillary?

    4) Experience against Inexperience: Obama knows that this is his weakness so he had to do a cover-up mission. Go search for all the negative things you can find about her experiences and tell the whole world about it. Hopefully, the media will take it even further. I think it's called "swift boating"?

    Question: Why are we letting this happen again. I thought swift boating is a Republican tactic. I know Bush used this against Kerry and McCain will use it again against Obama.

    I don't think this country is ready for a woman president yet. Give it another century or so or maybe two centuries. Why? Look, you have a candidate, who is smart, confident and she knows what it take to take this country out of this mess but the only thing that is stopping her is her gender. This would have been a perfect opportunity for all the women in this country. WHAT A WASTE!

    Aren't you tired of being branded as Martyr's.
    Aren't you tired that if your husband cheats, it's your fault...
    Aren't you tired of working twice as hard yet don't get appreciated...
    Aren't you tired of being called the B word when you fight back.

    I guess not....

    April 1, 2008 at 11:06 am |
  11. Claudia

    Biography does matter if it brings something new to the table. While McCain's biolography may be impressive it's stale. Both Hillary's and Obama's biographies don't suggest a military background as McCains, theirs are refreshing and rejuvenating.

    April 1, 2008 at 10:44 am |
  12. Russ

    I must say as a life long Democrat if Obama gets the Democrat nomination I'll be voting for John McCain. Obama has told to many different stories, skirts the issues and to me just isn't an honest man.

    April 1, 2008 at 10:41 am |
  13. Rafael Escobar

    i think that a candidates' bio is very important, especially for one that is new to the national political scene. it worries me that a person with high political hopes would join any organization without investigating it first and then once in, keep on investigating.
    if i joined an organization like the kkk and was asked why i would do so, and, i answered that i liked how the grand wizzard spoke and he gave me some piece of mind, then when i was bombarded with questions on, if i was in line with the grand wizzards and the organizations view and my answer after 20 yrs. of membership was that i did not subscribe to his way of thinking entirely and that i did not read or went to any meetings were this type of speeches or ideas have been declared, some if not most of people questioning me, would think i was either not truthfull or was a very complacent individual.
    i do not believe that either one of those traits are good for our future president. our president should be a person that goes into any situation after finding out all that there is to know of it before hand then there would be very few if any surprises that could hurt our country.

    April 1, 2008 at 10:25 am |
  14. Taj

    Biography, Resume, military service credentials, color, Washington insider experience no longer matters. It is much better that we select a candidate with a greater vision for America. Obama's humble beginings, his background, demeanor, sincererety, intellect & charm has certainly mesmerized people with hope for America. We need this infusion of a new talent & greatness to fix this zillion problems we are facing in America to day. Barrack is our new hope. Let us bring him in.

    April 1, 2008 at 10:07 am |
  15. Rosemarie Battaglia_McGuire

    Background matter! Background is what places discernable footprints
    of a persons charecter on a level playing field for comprehensive comparison. Sen. Obama enjoys the teflon coating that has long worn off of others running and national leaders who've long been on the political/public radar screen. How many militant's and militant causes like Bill Ayer's both within and without his church he has or hasn't had chummy associations with matter! Is he as squeaky clean as his polished visage seems to be? What truth exist about the Woods foundation, Weather unground cop killing, bomb placing groups and Sen. Obama's support and or alliegence? Is his image truly an untarnished one or one better illuminated by exposure of unground
    subcultures that indeed exist under our noses and beaneath our radar?

    April 1, 2008 at 9:28 am |
  16. KC, Texas

    I've always been told, "Better the devil you know than the devil you don't!" I know McCain and Clinton... I DO NOT KNOW OBAMA. I know he can give inspirational speeches...but there are too many unknown factors. Anyone that can give a speech that is clouded with pendulum double-talking rug issues does not have my vote. Actions should always speak louder than words.

    April 1, 2008 at 9:26 am |
  17. Marge Branscombe

    As a Canadian...an objective opinion, I hope. Listening to John MacCain re-telling his war experiences (noble as they might be considered), I am struck that it is amounting to bragging! Should he be saying these things?, or perhaps his surrogates? He seems like a nice man, but his constant bragging spoils this impression..

    April 1, 2008 at 9:05 am |
  18. kim p.

    I have been reading the blogs, what is amazing to me from all the Hillary supporters, why are they not asking her to defend her child. Why doesn't she ask the public to refrain from asking Chelsea about her husband's indiscression, but rather to ask her or Bill. Isn't he the one who started this mess? Is this the same woman who "found her voice", has 35 years of experience, took sniper fire in Bosnia (oh I forgot that was a "misspoke x3), who wants to be the leader and protector of the United States. I would have far more respect for Bill and Hilliary if they stood up, showed character, some integrity and took the heat instead of Chelsea. I'm curious with all her experience and campaign ability, did they not think this question would be raised by someone? Oh, surely they did, they would rather throw Chelsea under the bus, then go there themselves. This is who you want for the President of the United States. If she can't speak out for her child, what is she going to do for us when that 3:00 am call comes in?

    April 1, 2008 at 7:45 am |
  19. Anna

    I think a bio is important. Take Obama's he cleverly " pads: his story about doing drugs as if it qwas an addiction. All his friends and family says he was never on drugs. Tasted perhaps but not really a problem for him the way he writes it. One critic of his book says Obama writes about this in a " writerly" way to appeal to readers. This is because he really din't go through any " crises' or difficult times in his life growing up.

    I guess if you went to Punahou School and Harvard it is not such a " difficult life". Community work is done by countless of bright young students and not all of them are qualified to be President. Some may even be moore qualified than Obama.

    Judgment he says is his best character trait to be President. Obama 's judgment with Rezko connection? Judgment?

    Rev Wright mentor , inspired him to run for office, Judgment?

    Sitting in those pews for 20 years Obama claims he hasn't heard Wright speak in those hateful terms? Come on ! The American people have better judgment than Obama's.

    Read Obama's book again. He quotes jeremiah Wright and the text comes from the same hate sermon of Wright.

    April 1, 2008 at 3:28 am |
  20. Ben

    McCain is a great candidate for the republicans this time around. I wish he would have gotten the presidency in 2000 because I don't think we would be in this mess right now.

    April 1, 2008 at 3:16 am |
  21. anthony

    why is it everytime hilery has a lead in a state its always the most important state like all the states obama wins is not important i think every state is important

    April 1, 2008 at 2:15 am |
  22. Ellie

    This will probably go nowhere, but don't people read Anderson Cooper's blog– the majority of comments are pro-Clinton!
    ANd those polls - could you consistently state HOW MANY PEOPLE WERE POLLED IN EACH POLL! - sometimes they are 500 or 1000 and that's miniscule compared to the millions of people who have voted– can't even trust the polls! - just a Mom
    PS - could it just be that the Republicans are really more threatened by Clinton than Obama? - so they push for Obama?
    That poll that some Dems will vote Republican if their candidate doesn't win was a poll based on ONLY 500 people! Give us a break!!

    April 1, 2008 at 2:05 am |
  23. Erica B

    I think the background of the canaditates do matter but only to a certain extent. I'm not voting for Hilary because I think she's "more of the same". I think we need fresh meat in the White House to represent Americans not politicans. With Bush, it seems he doesn't give a rats crack about what the people of this country want, he is doing whats best for himself and his rich friends. Hillary will be almost the same. She will be a little wiser in covering up her true motives.

    April 1, 2008 at 2:01 am |
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