Clinton’s Problems With Experience and Consistency

There has been a lot of talk recently regarding why the experience argument has not worked for Clinton, which I’ve also been arguing for quite a while. Via Mattew Yglesias we have this post from Scott Lemieux:

Related to this point, arguments for Clinton proceeding from her allegedly greater experience have always been unpersuasive, precisely because if Clinton’s rather marginal and contestable experiential advantages over Obama should be decisive any of the other major Democratic candidates would be unquestionably preferable to either. (And, even worse, the same would be true of McCain in the general.) Fortunately for the Dems in November, I also agree with Yglesias that experience tends to be “the time-honored election argument of losers.” I think there may be exceptions in cases of long-time executive or high-ranking military experience, but no viable candidate has that.

Justin Gardner responds with yet something else I’ve been arguing throughout this race:

And so this is why Obama’s winning and it’s why he’ll continue to win. He’s simply better positioned for the general election than Hillary because it’s about judgement, not experience.

Another aspect of the experience issue is that the type of experience matters, not simply years in public life. Clinton counts every year since she graduated from law school when claiming thirty-five years of experience, but this does not give her a real advantage over Obama. As I’ve previously written:

If we are to count every year since graduation from law school, Clinton does have more years with some experience. What is more important is the type of experience and what was done with it. While Clinton’s experience was frequently based upon seeking government solutions to problems, Obama was involved as a community organizer. This might partially explain why Clinton concentrates on imposing government solutions for problems while Obama also considers ways in which people can help themselves.

While Clinton was practicing corporate law, Obama was teaching Constitutional law. This has had an impact in his strong support for separation of church and state and the differences in their views on presidential power and executive privilege as Clinton supports decreased transparency and would be more likely to continue, and I fear abuse, the powers taken by George Bush.

I’ve noted Obama’s legislative record in another post this morning. In contrast, Clinton has supported the Iraq war, voted for Kyl-Lieberman, opposed needle exchange programs, favored strict sentences for drug use (while Obama has favored retroactive changes), supported legislation to ban flag burning, supported censorship of video games, and opposed the banning of cluster bombs. These are just some of the areas where I feel Clinton was wrong and Obama was right. Clinton’s experience certainly does not mean having better judgment on the issues

If Clinton were to be the Democratic candidate against John McCain, she would be vulnerable on another argument besides experience. Once again we would be subjected to claims of flip-flopping by the Democrat. The most obvious case would be whenever Clinton criticizes McCain on the war. With her recent complaints regarding Obama’s mailers, we now have a second major area with NAFTA.

Clinton is on record multiple times where she expresses support for NAFTA, but she suddenly objects to an Obama mailer which notes her previous support. Although she has often spoken in support of NAFTA, Clinton biographer Sally Bedell Smith has shown that she was a late convert to the idea when her husband was president. It is certainly possible that Clinton opposed the idea but supported it to back her husband, but the Republicans will still have a field day with her contradictory public statements.


  1. 1
    ben says:

    Real experiece is a relative point of view! Her strategies got is all wrong!..They were hopeful to ride in her de facto experience which is linked to her husband. But here again there is a problem as the White House scandal in the final years of Bill’s presidency turned many off then and have now rekindled and has turned more off! Democrats do have many conservative voters too.

  2. 2
    Mauigirl says:

    Great summary of the situation. I too have been put off by Clinton claiming 35 years of experience. I don’t recall how man years she’s been in the Senate but it’s something like 8 at the most (she is in her second term, right?). Anything before that doesn’t count in my book!

    And you are right, it’s about judgment, not experience. And I have disagreed with hers on a number of issues, many of which you list here.

  3. 3
    Ron Chusid says:


    Clinton counts every day since she graduated from law school as part of her 35 years of experience. Making matters worse, sometimes she phrases it to sound like she has a 35 year advantage on Obama. If we similarly count Obama’s experience, she actually has a seventeen year advantage because she is older. Once we look at the quality of the experience, it is a matter of opinion, but I’d place Obama ahead.

  4. 4
    Sundei Blues says:

    Clinton will make a “big deal” out of correcting her stance on NAFTA in Tuesday’s last debate…

    They say the media is for Barack Obama, WRONG! CNN just had a poll up, “IS OBAMA PATRIOTIC”? They continually say, “You can’t count the Clintons out…they are the comeback kids.”

    The Clinton are always given the benefit of the doubt…and actually, it is the MSM that has planned for a CLINTON vs. MCCAIN” election for the last two years.

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