Friday, December 28, 2007

The Missing Experience Factor

With the Iowa caucuses rapidly approaching the candidates are pressing their main messages with renewed intensity. The key to campaigning appears to be to “stay on message” regardless of the chaos around you. I am not sure how substantive it is to have a candidate repeat the same slogan over and over, to our political discourse, but this seems to be the conventional wisdom. The daily mantra for Hillary Clinton is “strength and experience”. The ex-First Lady cites her experience as a major difference between her and her opponents and one worthy of giving her the nomination. Something about her being able to “hit the ground” running, to where we aren’t quite sure. The experience that Ms. Clinton is touting is not just her experience as a junior Senator from New York, given that her closest two rivals also share that experience, no it is her experience in the White House as First Lady.

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.[1]

I for one believe that her experience as First Lady is not necessarily transferable to the position she is now vying for, no more than I believe that First Lady Laura Bush is qualified to be President based on her experiences in the White House. For some reason in this country it is assumed and accepted by many that political positions are hereditary and therefore subject to transfer between fathers and sons, husbands and wives, or brothers. I have often found the reasoning for this strange and not very convincing. I think that many times history has borne out the fact that this idea of transference is not a reliable method of picking our leaders.

While I agree that as First Lady Hillary played an important role and was I am sure privy to more than she is letting on due to security concerns, but even so there is a big difference in being the mate of a President and the President. No matter how close the two may have been, the responsibility for decisions was always on Mr. Clinton, as well as the repercussions of those decisions. If Ms. Clinton can demonstrate where she was in fact the “decider” on policy and the recipient of the responsibility for those decisions then I think she has a case, until then however her claims to that experience I think is misleading.

Understandably, the relationship between husband and wife is exclusive and while the dynamics of that relationship is unique to each couple, it is commonly assumed that most decisions are shared or at least discussed between spouses. I am sure the Presidency is similar, but to what degree does a President discuss and share with their spouse? Because we have never had a female President we only have one side of the equation to consider. The question then becomes how much influence and information was shared between the Clintons? Ms. Clinton has been murky in this area, except to produce generalizations concerning her access to the decision making process. The problem I have with Ms. Clinton touting her White House experience is that we have no way of knowing the extent of her involvement and even if she were in fact part of the discussions providing input and making decisions are not the same.

Friends of Mrs. Clinton say that she 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.[2]

So, I guess my question is, does being First Lady give Ms. Clinton a leg up on her opponents in the experience department? Does my being married to a doctor give me valuable experience to begin diagnosing ailments, dispensing medication, and performing medical procedures? I am inclined to say no. While Ms. Clinton may have a better understanding of the stress, the difficulty, and the protocol of the Presidency, in my mind that does not equate to a marketable difference between her and her opponents in experience. The experience she brings as being the spouse of a President is distinctive compared to any of the other candidates this year or in years past, but again I have difficulty translating that to her now being uniquely qualified to be President. Maybe it’s a woman thing and I am not getting it, but what I do know is that being around the White House is no guarantee that someone is ready and qualified to be President. Maybe if that were true our current occupant would have done a better job.


No comments:

HTML stat tracker