Hillary's Experience

The NYTimes today runs a curious story that seems intended to debunk Hillary Clinton's claim of experience based on her time as First Lady. The gist is:

In seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, Mrs. Clinton lays claim to two traits nearly every day: strength and experience. . . . 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.” Her rivals scoff at the idea that her background gives her any special qualifications for the presidency. Senator Barack Obama has especially questioned “what experiences she’s claiming” as first lady, noting that the job is not the same as being a cabinet member, much less president.

Obama's claim seems strange to me. As I understand it, Hillary's claim is that she was the principal, and importantly, final advisor to Bill Clinton on all his major decisions. The story seems to confirm the claim, and certainly Bill Clinton has as well:

. . . [S]he was more of a sounding board than a policy maker, who learned through osmosis rather than decision-making, and who grew gradually more comfortable with the use of military power. . . . [S]he acted as adviser, analyst, devil’s advocate, problem-solver and gut check for her husband, and that she has an intuitive sense of how brutal the job can be. What is clear, she and others say, is that Mr. Clinton often consulted her, and that Mrs. Clinton gained experience that Mr. Obama, John Edwards and every other candidate lack — indeed, that most incoming presidents did not have. “In the end, she was the last court of appeal for him when he was making a decision,” said Mickey Kantor, a close Clinton friend who served as trade representative and commerce secretary. “I would be surprised if there was any major decision he made that she didn’t weigh in on.”

This sounds right to me and it is what I understand Hillary's claim of experience as First Lady entails. It makes this type of comment perplexing to me:

[O]ther administration officials, as well as opponents of Mrs. Clinton, are skeptical . . . She was not independently judging intelligence, for the most part, or mediating the data, egos and agendas of a national security team. And, in the end, she did not feel or process the weight of responsibility. Susan Rice, a National Security Council senior aide and State Department official under Mr. Clinton who now advises Mr. Obama, said Mrs. Clinton was not involved in “the heavy lifting of foreign policy.” . . .“Making tough decisions, responding to crises, making the bureaucracy implement decisions that they may not want to implement — that’s the hard part of foreign policy,” Ms. Rice said. “That’s not what Mrs. Clinton was asked or expected to do as first lady.”

Ms. Rice is saying that Hillary Clinton was not the President. That Bill Clinton was. To that I say, duh.

But it is farcical to argue that Ms. Rice, as a national security aide, to argue that as First Lady Hillary Clinton did not experience the decisionmaking process of a President from an almost unparallelled perspective.

I also think it is poor politics by the Obama campaign to argue this point. He clearly has LESS experience than the other candidates in this area. To asrgue its importance is to play on Clinton turf.

And of course the ultimate testimony on this aspect of Hillary's experience can come from the source himself - Bill Clinton. And if the Obama campaign wants to thrust Bill Clinton directly into the campaign by arguing this issue, he will be making a grave mistake.

< Giuliani: A Review of His Mayoral Years | Texecutions: Six Out of Every Ten in America >
  • The Online Magazine with Liberal coverage of crime-related political and injustice news

  • Contribute To TalkLeft

  • Display: Sort:
    Hillary's "so-called experience" (5.00 / 1) (#4)
    by mtnwizard on Wed Dec 26, 2007 at 10:24:20 AM EST
    Hillary failed at healthcare.  But, what was the extent of her participation in foreign affairs?  She had no security clearance, did not receive the daily Intelligence briefings, and did not participate in National Security Council meetings.  We don't even know if she was talking to Bill much of the time due to the Monica fiasco.  Plus, her time as a US Senator in New York has been undistinguished legislatively.  Finally, she voted FOR the war in Iraq, and FOR George W.'s declaration of Iran's Republican Guard as a terrorist organization.  She is the ultimate flip-flopper and easily sits on both sides of the fence.  If we really want CHANGE, that can only come from Barack Obama.

    Change from Barack (5.00 / 2) (#7)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Wed Dec 26, 2007 at 10:32:10 AM EST
    Perhaps. But you can not in good faith, as you do, argue that Obama matches Clinton's experience.

    Its what makes Obama supporters hard for me to take seriously.


    If experience was the issue (5.00 / 1) (#16)
    by DaveFox on Wed Dec 26, 2007 at 11:58:28 AM EST
    we'd be considering Biden, Dodd and Richardson.  Hillary didn't do much of anything in the Senate.  She was first lady and was a prime witness to Bill Clinton's presidency, but it's unclear exactly what she did since she won't unseal her records.

    If she's claiming the Clinton presidency as her own, then she should release her records so she can be judged objectively on it.

    And for all her talk about "experience," it didn't seem to do her any good in her Senate career, as evidenced by her Iraq War vote without bothering to read to read the NIE on Iraq, and again on Kyl-Lieberman.  I've seen this kind of experience in action.  No thanks.


    Argue for them then (none / 0) (#25)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Wed Dec 26, 2007 at 01:10:28 PM EST
    If experience means nothing, then why does Obama try to bvelittle Clinton's experience?

    Clearly it DOES mena somethng.

    BTW, WH experience is a winner for Clinton.

    Keep trying if you must.


    Right (none / 0) (#20)
    by manys on Wed Dec 26, 2007 at 12:49:49 PM EST
    This makes them both fakers in my book.

    Obama never (none / 0) (#27)
    by Jgarza on Wed Dec 26, 2007 at 01:29:40 PM EST
    argues that, he argues that she exaggerates her experience, as a retort to her attacking him.  How does pointing that at not make sense.  This post makes no sense.  You don't even comment on what it says, you just made some unfounded statements, and had some vague quotes.

    HRC and Healthcare 1992 (5.00 / 1) (#13)
    by Molly Bloom on Wed Dec 26, 2007 at 11:23:59 AM EST
    To be sure, had NHC legislation passed HRC would have taken full credit for it and its reasonable that she bear some of the blame. The question is how much and could someone else have done better under the circumstances?

    With a fractured Democratic majority in 1992 and Bill Kristol advising Republicans to oppose and not compromise on health care, I don't think there was anything that was going to change the outcome and I don't think anyone else would have done much better.

    Watching the current congress, I have come to the conclusion, unless the number of progressives increase in congress, and more Republicans find themselves searching for position in the private sector in 2009, it isn't going to be any different this time no matter who is elected. Including Obama.


    I agree with this: (5.00 / 1) (#19)
    by Maryb2004 on Wed Dec 26, 2007 at 12:37:22 PM EST
    Watching the current congress, I have come to the conclusion, unless the number of progressives increase in congress, and more Republicans find themselves searching for position in the private sector in 2009, it isn't going to be any different this time no matter who is elected. Including Obama.

    yes but (1.00 / 0) (#38)
    by jimakaPPJ on Sat Dec 29, 2007 at 09:21:40 AM EST
    With a fractured Democratic majority in 1992 and Bill Kristol advising Republicans to oppose

    Never the less they had a majority. The proposal failed based on projected tax increases on Joe and Jane Six Pack. They saw it as another welfare program.


    "Experience" (5.00 / 1) (#12)
    by SteveSmith on Wed Dec 26, 2007 at 11:21:33 AM EST
    I suppose being First Lady does provide a certain "experience," but I'm not sure it's all that relevant here, since the "experience" that people tend to think is important is associated with accountability.  The fact that George W. Bush was the son of a President, and no doubt was a behind-the-scenes player concerning his father's decisions as both Veep and President, didn't make him James Baker.  By making "experience" the raison d'etre of her candidacy, she simply reminds voters that her public role for most of the past thirty years was as a political spouse.  

    A simple rebuke (none / 0) (#21)
    by manys on Wed Dec 26, 2007 at 12:51:11 PM EST
    All anybody has to do is to start comparing her strength and experience with Laura Bush's.

    Please compare apples to apples (none / 0) (#26)
    by Molly Bloom on Wed Dec 26, 2007 at 01:16:56 PM EST
    No matter what you think of either first lady, they are not at all alike and its clear Laura Bush's role differed greatly from HRC.

    Then release the records (5.00 / 1) (#15)
    by DaveFox on Wed Dec 26, 2007 at 11:52:00 AM EST
    If Hillary wants to claim her time as first lady as "experience," then she should release all the records locked in the Clinton library.  To claim this sort of experience, she should be judged on her record.  To keep these records locked is unfair.  She's basically saying, "Trust me, I did a lot of serious work" without anyone being able to see exactly what it was she did.

    I agree (none / 0) (#22)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Wed Dec 26, 2007 at 01:05:19 PM EST
    Bingo! (none / 0) (#35)
    by Wile ECoyote on Wed Dec 26, 2007 at 03:49:02 PM EST
    I get all my Clinton opinions from Patrick Healy (none / 0) (#1)
    by ferris on Wed Dec 26, 2007 at 10:08:28 AM EST
    Heh (none / 0) (#2)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Wed Dec 26, 2007 at 10:12:02 AM EST
    Of course (none / 0) (#34)
    by Wile ECoyote on Wed Dec 26, 2007 at 03:48:10 PM EST
    Hillary claims to have helped started Media Matters, so you are not pointing out a balanced Clinton observer either.  

    Women Voters (none / 0) (#3)
    by BDB on Wed Dec 26, 2007 at 10:12:13 AM EST
    I do not understand Obama's arguments in this area.   At times some of the things he's said have verged on trying to paint Hillary as "just a wife."  Nobody who knows anything about the Clintons is going to believe that.  And I think it runs the risk of alienating women voters.

    There are a lot of things about Obama's history that I'm sure I don't know.  Things he did as a community organizer and state legislator that I'd probably like.  If he's worried about the experience argument, I think he'd be better to tout his own than trying to convince me that Clinton doesn't have any.  As he says, there are all kinds of experience.  

    But really, the 44-year-old is always going to lose the experience argument to the 60-year-old.  It's fighting on Clinton's turf when he should, IMO, be pushing the change mantra. That's his strength.  That he's fresh.  Fresh people rarely have as much experience, that's what makes them fresh.

    I still think it's likely Obama will win Iowa, but if he doesn't, I think it's because he's been off his game the last couple of weeks.  Arguing over who has the most Clinton people, whether Clinton's experience as first lady counts, his terrible non-answer on his present vote, the attack on unions - none of it is a death blow or a collapse or anything, but he's been flailing a bit and it's weird to see after so many strong moves earlier in the month.

    To be fair (5.00 / 1) (#17)
    by DaveFox on Wed Dec 26, 2007 at 12:04:37 PM EST
    The "I don't know what experience she's claiming" quote was a response to a question he was asked where HRC was claiming credit for the 90's economy, he went on to say that she wasn't Treasury Secretary, as far as he knew.  That quote is over a month old.  I don't think this Obama bringing this up, it's the NYT.

    He should also be pushing the judgment argument more.  For all of HRC's experience, it didn't do her any good on AUMF and Kyl-Lieberman.  If she is experienced as she claimed, she shouldn't have made these stupid mistakes.


    Experience (none / 0) (#8)
    by joejoejoe on Wed Dec 26, 2007 at 10:33:18 AM EST
    One year of experience repeated 10 times is not necessarily the same as 10 years of experience. Dick Cheney has 35 years of high level experience but the last 32 of them have been him reliving the Nixon impeachment through the lens of "Nixon got screwed by Congress". My point is that an aggregate number of years tells you very little about the knowledge and capabilities of an individual absent the context of their actions.

    Experience to me means 'wise enough not to make avoidable mistakes'.


    The full "front row" quote (none / 0) (#5)
    by joejoejoe on Wed Dec 26, 2007 at 10:24:22 AM EST
    From NBC.com:
    "During the eight years of Bill's presidency, I had a front row seat on history," she said while campaigning in South Carolina last month. "As you may remember, [he] had to deal with terrorism. I learned both what works and what doesn't work."

    The NYT's Patrick Healy uses too much snark for a reporter and it was wrong to include Obama advisors in what would otherwise be a straight analysis of Hillary Clinton's role as First Lady.

    That said "experience" means different things to different people. If you're a mid level bureaucrat at CIA or State and your portfolio is New Zealand it's YOUR portfolio. Should some crisis pop up in New Zealand any credit or blame for the quality of your analysis and advise is going to be attached to your name and rightly so. Being a 'sounding board' or 'trusted advisor' is a different kind of experience. As far as I can tell the only portfolio that Hillary Clinton had where she was responsible for the results as First Lady was health care. On every other subject matter she may have gotten her 2 cents in as First Lady but the quality and accountability of that 2 cents is what is at issue.

    It's impossible to know if an advisor had his/her advice heeded if they won't discuss or reveal the substance of their advice. Because politicians almost always frame their record in the most favorable terms you don't see members of the Clinton administration out talking about Rwanda or Somalia very much. Claiming the mantle of 'experience' for being an advisor but not allowing any of the blame for poor decision making to attach to your name is a dodge in my view and a worthwhile subject for a newspaper analysis.

    Healy screwed up an otherwise worthwhile topic by mixing in politics. Obama should never have been part of this NYT piece and Susan Rice should not have been quoted.

    A nit (none / 0) (#6)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Wed Dec 26, 2007 at 10:30:32 AM EST
    Having a portfolio does not put you at the center of WH decisionmaking.

    Hillary Clinton was at the center of it.

    Let's face it, Susan Rice was nowhere near it.


    Decision making isn't about proximity (5.00 / 1) (#9)
    by joejoejoe on Wed Dec 26, 2007 at 10:51:52 AM EST
    You either make decisions or you don't. Obama's point about cabinet secretaries to me meant cabinet secretaries are accountable. In his first term President Clinton replaced his Defense secretary and it wasn't for giving good advice. The Secretary of Defense is at the center of WH decisionmaking. So what? It's the quality of advice that counts. My problem with Hillary Clinton claiming the experience of President Clinton is that she can only make generalized claims that cannot be tested.

    The handling of the Rwandan genocide had a big effect on shaping my politics in real time and in the intervening years Rwanda has shaped a lot of how I view foreign policy. If I asked Hillary Clinton about what role she played in US policy making during the Rwandan genocide she'd say A) she doesn't discuss her conversations with the President and B) she learned what works and what doesn't work by watching. What kind of follow up questions can I ask with that kind of response? None that I can figure. So the weight I give Hillary Clinton's experience as First Lady is directly proportional to my ability to examine that experience. Personally I weigh Hillary Clinton's time as First Lady as top quality life experience but hardly at all as governing experience.

    Maybe Hillary Clinton gave the absolute best advice as First Lady and was primarily responsible for most of her husband's success. Perhaps his failures all came when Bill Clinton ignored Hillary Clinton's counsel. Or the reverse.

    But how can I possibly know?


    Being NEAR the decisiomaking (none / 0) (#24)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Wed Dec 26, 2007 at 01:08:31 PM EST
    has a huge effect on how much influence you have over it.

    Come on Joe.

    You are better than this.

    This is one of the more ridiculous arguments I am seeing from Obama supporters.

    You seem to be arguing that SUSAN RICE was more influential over Clinton foreign policy than Hillary was.

    That is simply absurd.


    Power and influence don't equal responsibility (5.00 / 1) (#30)
    by joejoejoe on Wed Dec 26, 2007 at 02:52:55 PM EST
    Proximity to power DOES have a huge effect on how much influence you have but simple proximity says nothing about the quality of your decision making. Giving bad advice isn't good experience. How do you know what Hillary Clinton advised one way or another? And what was on the line when she offered her opinion?

    I'm not saying Hillary Clinton wasn't a big influence on President Clinton's decisions and I'm not saying she didn't have a "front row" seat to power. But the content of Hillary Clinton's advice is largely secret and therefore her claim to positive experience is an article of faith. When Richard Clark (a Susan Rice-type bureaucrat) testified before the 9/11 commission "I failed you" he could say that because it was his job to detect and prevent attacks before they occured. How can a First Lady fail in that way? And if she can't fail - how can she succeed?

    I'm not willing to stipulate the Clinton presidency as a whole as an unabashed good. It's largely good but partly a mixed bag. Without knowing what Hillary Clinton advised I'm not willing to take it on faith that she gets credit for the good and learned from the bad.
    - - -
    Note: Hardly any of this confusion about experience is Hillary Clinton's fault. I would imagine her communications with her husband are protected and you can't just willy-nilly declassify archives to further your political campaign.

    Note #2: I'm trying NOT to bring Obama's experience relative to any other candidate into this debate. I think it was a mistake by Healy to have an Obama advisor quoted in the story. If Healy couldn't get non-Obama advising Clinton advisors on the record than he should have written a more political story about the campaigns instead of pretending to write a serious historical analysis of HRC's record as First Lady.



    Who's talking about quality? (none / 0) (#31)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Wed Dec 26, 2007 at 02:57:19 PM EST
    Experience means experience.

    Heck, you are making the argument that Obama should be making but that is NOT an experience argument.


    Experience means experience. (none / 0) (#32)
    by joejoejoe on Wed Dec 26, 2007 at 03:07:47 PM EST
    Ok you win. If only Jimi Hendrix was running...

    Portfolio (none / 0) (#11)
    by joejoejoe on Wed Dec 26, 2007 at 11:14:29 AM EST
    My point about being a desk officer covering New Zealand is that that desk officer decides what to examine with finite resources - eco-terrorists, drug trade, burgeoning political anti-US political movements, NZ's role as transit hub for Indonesia, and on and on. What the spit hits the fan in NZ that desk officer has his/her decisions tested in a way that the advice of a senior advisor with no portfolio is not tested. The choice to focus on this at the expense of that, to spend resources tracking down A and not B is the kind of practical decision making experience that ISN'T picked up by osmosis.

    As far as I've read (none / 0) (#18)
    by DaveFox on Wed Dec 26, 2007 at 12:05:37 PM EST
    she was frozen out of White House decision making after the health care fiasco.

    Just sayin'


    Got a link? (5.00 / 1) (#23)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Wed Dec 26, 2007 at 01:06:20 PM EST
    I think most folks have said quite the opposite.

    I worked for Clinton Political Appointees (none / 0) (#33)
    by BDB on Wed Dec 26, 2007 at 03:25:26 PM EST
    They certainly had influence, especially in running the agencies day-to-day and they played an important role in formulating policy, but the biggest decisions were made at the White House by the President and his advisors, which included his wife.  The idea that some Assistant Secretary of State or whatever had the same influence as Hillary Clinton is laughable.  None of the folks I worked  for who were at the same level or above would ever suggest such a thing.  

    If Obama really thinks that then he doesn't know enough about history or government to be president (fortunately, I don't think he really believes his own argument).

    But then these are the same folks who pushed a story yesterday suggesting that Ambassadors and Walter Mondale didn't have foreign policy experience.


    I think the NYT may have run out of (none / 0) (#10)
    by scribe on Wed Dec 26, 2007 at 10:54:52 AM EST
    intelligent things to say, or had too much eggnog while trying to find something to write.  

    And, that's not exclusive to their coverage of HRC.

    They're also barking about Edwards being, horror of horrors, late to campaign stops.  <mortified voice> Sometimes by as much as 45 minutes or even an hour. [Runs screaming like the character in a Munch painting.] </mortified voice>

    The Times has even taken it upon themselves to be dealing out demerits.

    Shoot, the last time the concept of demerits even crossed my radar was well over 25 yr. ago, where a service academy grad of my acquaintance was class champion at collecting them.  His theory:  getting hit with demerits was inevitable, so one might as well enjoy himself and let the chips fall where they might.  Anyone who's ever worked with a lawyer knows the lawyer is almost inevitably late for just about anything not involving actually appearing in Court, and sometimes even then.

    The Times needs to grow up.

    It's not experience (none / 0) (#14)
    by koshembos on Wed Dec 26, 2007 at 11:33:47 AM EST
    The difference between Hillary and Obama is really not in experience. After all, only a president has the experience need t be one. If it were just experience, I would have chosen Obama.

    The problem is that Obama is a fake. Just saw someone supporting Obama because he'll stop the culture war. Clearly, this is a drug haze triggered mirage. Obama is a fake because he tailors his message to whatever people are buying, because he lies a lot, because he avoids voting on controversial issue by voting present, because he pretend to be about people but is about himself, because he runs as a courageous leader with no iota of courage.

    It's very simple... (none / 0) (#28)
    by Slado on Wed Dec 26, 2007 at 01:40:57 PM EST
    Clinton won't release the records of her time as first lady so any credit she claims should be taken with a serious grain of salt.

    For her to take credit for big decisions, how they were made etc... means she needed to be in the rooms when the mattters where presented, discussed and ultimately decided by Bill.

    If she wasn't then she has no "experience" on that issue.  At most she could only have learned what happened after the fact if Bill told her over dinner but that isn't being part of the decision so I wouldn't give someone credit for having "experience".

    Too me she has no more experience then any of the spouses that where involved in key decisions made during the Clinton years.

    Unless of course she was there in the room and I doubt she was or she would be releasing those records.

    One has to assume she is hiding something she deams detrimental to her claims because she's decided it's less hurtfull to not release them and deal with the flack.

    When Obama argues ... (none / 0) (#29)
    by chemoelectric on Wed Dec 26, 2007 at 02:45:56 PM EST
    When Obama argues that he has "experience", he looks like a smart kid listing homecoming committee as work experience.

    Experience is not necessary (none / 0) (#36)
    by Saul on Thu Dec 27, 2007 at 09:13:37 AM EST
    Look at Bush, Nixon and others  if they are  a product of experience then the hell with experience.   Look at the mess we are in because of Bush's experience.  If tomorrow if by magic I became president or any other caring person did, I think I could learn very fast and yes I would make some mistakes but I would never leave focus that the people were my main concern and foreign affairs would be secondary.  In fact I would not live in the White House.  I would rent a house nearby and drive to work in the White House. The White House belongs to the people.  I would invite poor and rich people everyday to come and eat at the White House.  I would have no parties except my personal ones in my home that I would pay for myself. I would only send troops in harms way only as a court of last resort, and only if the majority of the people desired it to include only if  80% of the congress wanted to but this would only be done after all diplomacy would have failed and only if there was an immediate danger to this country.  As commander in chief I would  eat the same food that my troops were eating in the trenches and continue to do so until they returned. I would not take any unadvertise trips to visit my troops but would be subject to the same risks they would be exposed to and I would request no special protection. In short I would try very hard to make sure that our government was truly a government of the people, by the people and for the people and my serving as president was a privilege and my only job as president was to be a servant to the majority of the people.  The people would be everything and I am nothing.

    Monica (none / 0) (#37)
    by diogenes on Thu Dec 27, 2007 at 01:07:50 PM EST
    The coverup rather than immediate confession over Monica indicates a GIGANTIC Nixonian character flaw.  As the wronged wife, Hillary could have stopped the coverup no matter what Bill had to say about it.
    Nixon had lots of experience too-but he was trapped in the end.
    And why won't she release the Clinton records now???

    Experience Matters (none / 0) (#40)
    by Michael Oliva on Mon Jan 07, 2008 at 03:17:15 AM EST
    Please feel free to enjoy an article I have written on this called "Experience Matters!"


    Michael Oliva