When picking a president, do Americans care about experience?

I have asked and answered that question on this blog several times. My answer thirteen months ago? Not especially.

In truth, winning the presidency is a combination of timing, availability, and likability.

Shortly after Obama announced, I asserted:

I make no definite prediction here, but in answer to the question of whether Americans will elect an inexperienced person whom they like and to whom they can attach their optimism and desire for a change? Or, in other words, can Barack Obama be elected? Bet the farm on it.

I stand by that analysis. Experience is something of a threshold question (you need to seem presidential to merit consideration), but experience has not generally played the ultimate deciding role in choosing a president.

Can Obama win? Yes.

But "can he win?" and "can he succeed?" are separate and fundamentally different questions. Some of us seem to be conflating the two.

If elected, can he be a great president? Nothing says he cannot; on the other hand, of course, there is nothing necessarily constructive about his lack of seasoning.

TIME Magazine asks this week: "Does Experience Matter in a President?"

They go on to prove scientifically that "experience" is virtually irrelevant.

It is increasingly trendy for smart people to proclaim that the presidency is a position of authority and responsibility wholly unlike any other; therefore, there is no prior experience for being chief executive of the United States. While that statement is true on its face, it seems intended to lay a predicate for an erroneous implicit conclusion: prior experience is irrelevant to the presidency. This is sophistry.

An aside: I am an historian and not a social scientist for two main reasons:

--I believe history is art--not science.

--And I do not believe I have the capacity to predict the future.

Human events (elections and presidential administrations, for example) are the product of multiple motives, unique political moments, and complicated webs of contingency. They generally do not conform to prescribed models or necessarily follow historical patterns.

For the record, there is a kernel of wisdom in the self-serving TIME coverage, which comes from one of America's great historians, Richard Norton Smith:

"Experience never exists in isolation; it is always a factor that coexists with temperament, training, background, spiritual outlook, and a host of other factors. Character is your magic word, it seems to me not just what they've done but how they've done it and what they've learned from doing it."

But what of Obama?

I have repeatedly asserted that he is set to be the least-experienced, least-known president ever selected by the American electorate. We know almost nothing about him except that we like him. But, in truth, I don't necessarily hold that against him. The more interesting question, for me, has been why we like him? Why do we like him so much?

But as I have also said repeatedly, I can certainly feel the attraction. I like the guy too. It is okay to vote for this person based on instincts. We don't have to go through this tortured dance, twisting reason and history into logical knots in order to rationalize our emotionally charged desire for him to be president. You have my permission to vote for this man. No more elaborate arguments are necessary.

My nagging major reservation. What bothers me most about Obama?

We disagree on much--but it is Iraq that bothers me most. He has used his opposition to Iraq to get where he is today with the Democratic base. He has crafted a winning image as the authentic candidate of impeccable integrity. He will continue to espouse his out-of-Iraq rhetoric until Election Day, and will very likely win the race by a comfortable margin. And he will be committed to withdraw.

If not for Iraq, I could enjoy this moment without a feeling of impending doom. For another time...