Clinton’s Experience

Experience has often been mentioned in coverage of the Democratic race, but it is hard to believe that many people really care. If experience is what most people were voting on (and was what the media initially used to determine who the meaningful candidates were) then Dodd, Biden, and Richardson would be receiving far more attention. None of the top tier of Democratic candidates has experience to match them, but their relative amounts of experience has occasionally been an issue.

With Hillary Clinton often running on experience, The New York Times looks at her experience as first lady today. They begin:

As first lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton jaw-boned the authoritarian president of Uzbekistan to leave his car and shake hands with people. She argued with the Czech prime minister about democracy. She cajoled Roman Catholic and Protestant women to talk to one another in Northern Ireland. She traveled to 79 countries in total, little of it leisure; one meeting with mutilated Rwandan refugees so unsettled her that she threw up afterward.

But during those two terms in the White House, Mrs. Clinton did not hold a security clearance. She did not attend National Security Council meetings. She was not given a copy of the president’s daily intelligence briefing. She did not assert herself on the crises in Somalia, Haiti and Rwanda.

And during one of President Bill Clinton’s major tests on terrorism, whether to bomb Afghanistan and Sudan in 1998, Mrs. Clinton was barely speaking to her husband, let alone advising him, as the Lewinsky scandal sizzled.

In seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, Mrs. Clinton lays claim to two traits nearly every day: strength and experience. But as the junior senator from New York, she has few significant legislative accomplishments to her name. She has cast herself, instead, as a first lady like no other: a full partner to her husband in his administration, and, she says, all the stronger and more experienced for her “eight years with a front-row seat on history.”

Reading the full article doesn’t change my previous view of her experience. Her years as first lady do provide her with unique experience, but not enough for her to make any claims as being especially qualified to be president. Experience isn’t something which can be exactly measured, and it is difficult to weigh her experiences as opposed to Obama’s experiences as a professor of Constitutional law, community organizer, and member of the state legislature.

Of the top tier candidates, all three are less experience than the candidates in the second tier. Edwards is the only one who I feel is unqualified to be president, having used a single undistinguished term in the Senate primarily as a stepping stone to run for the 2004 nomination. In comparing Clinton and Obama I’m more concerned with their judgment and the specifics of their actions and beliefs as opposed to trying to compare two totally different types of experience. The problem with Clinton’s experience is that she performed poorly on the one project she has responsibility for, health care. The overly complicated and bureaucratic nature of the health care plan she devised also makes me doubt that I would be happy with other plans she would develop as president.

The article also makes it clear that Hillary Clinton had little input with regards to foreign policy:

Associates from that time said that she was aware of Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden and what her husband has in recent years characterized as his intense focus on them, but that she made no aggressive independent effort to shape policy or gather information about the threat of terrorism.

She did not wrestle directly with many of the other challenges the next president will face, including managing a large-scale deployment — or withdrawal — of troops abroad, an overhaul of the intelligence agencies or the effort to halt the spread of nuclear weapons technology. Most of her exposure to the military has come since she left the White House through her seat on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

In comparing Obama with Clinton (as well as Edwards) on foreign policy, what differentiates them is not their level of experience but judgment. On the key foreign policy decision of recent years, Obama is the only one of the three who got it right. This makes me far more willing to trust Obama on future decisions of war and peace than either Clinton or Edwards.


  1. 1
    Boy says:

    “I would stop the import of all toys from China” – Barack Obama

    The dude may have judgement but he doesn’t know diplomacy, does he? As for the weak quote by his office, along the lines of “he meant toys containing more than trace amounts of lead from anywhere”, that may be what he meant but that’s certainly not what he said.

    Don’t get me wrong, I like Barack, and I hope he will run as VP next to Clinton, but he needs to learn to think before he speaks. Or at least, to speak in a style which is considerably more vague. Otherwise it’s just a matter of time before he puts his foot firmly into his mouth, and with nearly a year to go before elections that is unacceptable.

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    In comparing the two candidates, this is just ridiculously trivial compared to the problems of substance with Clinton. Obama makes a comment which needs correction. Clinton gets it wrong on issues from Iraq to health care. There’s just no comparison here.

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