Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Hillary Clinton's experience argument... Distorting truth and killing kittens...

The Hillary Clinton Experience Crusade is fascinating for three different reasons. First, it's an outrageous piece of fiction that no sane person could really believe. Second, it's actually working. Third, it's another "destroy the candidacy in order to save the candidacy" moment.

Chris Dodd has served as an elected official for over two centuries and wrote the original draft of the Ninth Amendment. Joe Biden has won 83 different elections and helped pour the foundation of the Washington monument. Bill Richardson has held every possible position (except VP/President) in the federal government, including a short stint as a White House pastry chef during the Truman administration. If you look at the famous painting of George Washington crossing the Delaware, you'll notice a young Mike Gravel serving as an oarsman.

If you want to pick a Democrat presidential candidate on the basis of experience, resurrect the Dodd, Biden, Gravel or Richardson campaign. Bring those old-timers back, because they have some serious prez-worthy backgrounds.

In addition to long, distinguished careers, those three fellas have something else in common--very few people were willing to vote for them. Experience obviously DIDN'T matter to voters early in the process.

Now, however, it's a CRITICAL ISSUE. How does comparing and contrasting CVs go from being a meaningless exercise about which nobody gives a flying Huckabee to becoming the defining issue of the nominating process? That's a very good question.

It's because Hillary realized she needed something more than what she had after finishing #3 in Iowa. The really experienced guys were already dead and buried, it was becoming clear that she was in a 3-way race (rapidly dwindling to the head-to-head thing we have today).

If you're Hillary and you're staring down the barrel of having your previously-assumed nomination getting snatched away by one of two guys who never had to suffer through countless years of being the butt of every Rush Limbaugh joke, you start reaching. You need something you can sell. Something that might tap into the "fear factor" of the electorate. Something that seems oh-so-presidential. It also has to be something that you can try to back up with some credibility.

As luck would have it, Clinton is older than Obama and Edwards. Her resume is a few pages longer. The new CRITICAL ISSUE becomes experience.

So, Hillary makes sure she talks about experience every fucking time a microphone is within 20 feet of her experienced face. She traces her Presidential preparation back to her days as a law student. She reminds people that she is THE experienced candidate. She has 35 years of experiencing doing everything a President would ever need to do. 35 years. Have you heard that, she has 35 years of experience.

Hillary makes a point to repeat her mantra so many times that it has emerged as a matter of fact instead of an aspect of strategy. She embodies experience by repeating her arguments with the rapidity of a Gatling gun. When she's being a positive candidate, she trumpets her history. When she's going negative, she lashes out at Barack Obama's experience. She dismisses him as a wet-behind-the-ears upstart saying things like, "He was a part-time state senator for a few years, and then he came to the Senate and immediately started running for president."

The Hillary Clinton Experience Crusade is fascinating for three different reasons. First, it's an outrageous piece of fiction that no sane person could really believe. Second, it's actually working. Third, it's another "destroy the candidacy in order to save the candidacy" moment.

Hillary Clinton's Experience vs. Barack Obama's Experience

Hillary Clinton doesn't really beat Barack Obama in the experience department, no matter what she and her campaign tools might say. She's not head and shoulders above Barack, regardless of how you define "experience".

One thing is absolutely clear: When Hillary talks about experience, she isn't talking about actual experience as an elected official. The edge in that department actually goes to Barack Obama, after all. Yes, Clinton has been in the US Senate longer, but would actually lose the "years in office" contest to Obama by a score of 12-8 as of November '08. Barack has 8 years of experience in Illinois state politics under his belt and will have 4 years in DC.

If you're a Clinton fan, don't pretend like state level experience doesn't count unless you're willing to admit that William Jefferson Clinton was remarkably unqualified for office. Even if you're willing to say that, you know Hillary isn't. Obama's been an elected official longer than Hillary. He's won more elections.

That can only mean one thing... When Hillary talks about experience, she's talking about experience outside of elected office.

That's not an unreasonable argument. There are all sorts of things you can do that might help prepare you for a presidency. Hillary is fond of mentioning her commitment to helping kids and her work with the Children's Defense Fund. She is ready to remind us of her ascent to full partnership at the Rose Law Firm. She goes all the way back to the 70s when she did some work to impeach tricky Dick. She's been on many boards. She's spoken out on a variety of important issues. She tried to do something to fix our messed up system of health care, battling (albeit unsuccessfully) with the Contract with America guys.

Hillary Clinton has experience. Then again, so does the other guy.

Barack Obama, like Clinton, went to a hoity-toity big-time law school. He did well at Harvard, he even made a little history when he ended up as the Law Review's first black editor. He did that after spending a few years as a community organizer. He turned down big dollar offers that had greased lightning fast tracks to partner status in order to practice civil rights law and to work with things like Project VOTE. He taught a little constitutional law while fighting poverty and racism. Then he started his 8-year stint in the hardboiled world of Illinois state politics.

If Clinton has the edge here, it's only because she's older, not because she's better. Her experience isn't markedly more impressive than Obama's. If older is better, Jimmy Carter is eligible for another run.

So, how in the hell can anyone say that Clinton is more experienced than Obama? The answer is rarely spoken. Instead, Clinton prefers that we infer it. It's an "understood" thing. Every time she talks about those 35 years, we all know where 8 of them were spent. We understand that she knows her way around the White House. Hillary Clinton was the first lady for two terms. That's her secret-yet-rarely-stated-directly trump card in the experience game.

I'm not going to pretend that 8 years with a first row seat doesn't have value. That would be just as disingenuous as positioning oneself as the "experience candidate" when there really isn't a huge difference between you and your opponent. Hillary Clinton's 8 years in DC with Bill at America's helm does matter. The question is, how much?

My guess is that the difference isn't really that big. First, recognize that Hillary's involvement in governing was, by all known accounts, limited. She didn't have security clearance. She didn't sit in on big meetings. She didn't interject herself into the operations of the White House. We know that Bill undoubtedly spoke with her (well, there might have been times when that wasn't common, but overall...) and that her opinions and ideas probably had an impact on policy in some way, shape or form.

It's impossible to judge how much influence and involvement she had. We know what she didn't do, but we don't know what she did do (with the exception of the healthcare flop). We won't find out, either. The records that detail her schedule and related matters of experience are tightly sealed by President Bill Clinton. The best guess seems to be that she was a sounding board for the President.

I don't know how much experience power one soaks up in that role. Do you? Is it enough to break a tie between Clinton and Obama? I don't think so. Maybe you do. If you do, you certainly can't be dumb enough to say that it creates an experience gulf between the two of them. You can't honestly say that experience is a REASON to prefer Clinton over Obama, can you? If so, you know a helluva lot more than anyone else about those 8 years. Either that or you're full of shit.

People are Buying the Clinton Experience Argument

Clinton's experience arguments aren't that impressive when one actually looks at them closely. We're talking about 14 years of age and it just so happens that 8 of those were spent with an elected spouse. The gap shrinks more when you subtract the years in which Hillary intentionally curtailed her role in the Clinton White House (whatever it was) and the times when Bill and Hillary weren't probably doing a lot of strategizing as a happy couple.

Nonetheless, the argument seems to be working. A recent poll shows that an overwhelming number of people believe Clinton's experience beats Obama's:

"According to a new New York Times/CBS News poll, 79 percent of all Democratic primary voters believe that Hillary Clinton has "prepared herself well enough for the job of President," compared with only 40 percent for Obama."

Obama is frequently described as "young" or an "upstart". He's the "inexperienced" candidate, while Clinton has the "right experience for the job".

It's strong evidence that repetition of something will "make it true" regardless of the underlying basis in reality. Clinton is sufficiently experienced to become the next President of the United States. So is Barack Obama. One great blog post compares the experience levels of multiple Presidents with respect to years served in elected office. Obama compares favorably with them all. None other than Newt Gingrich, the captain of the Contract with America team who trounced Hillary in the early 90s, concedes that Obama has adequate training for the job, noting "Well, Abraham Lincoln served two years in the U.S. House, and seemed to do all right."

Somehow, experience continues to be an issue within the Democratic party. Terry McCauliffe, a key Clinton aide, argued that the experience factor was a key to her redemptive victory in New Hampshire. The Wall Street Journal credits an experience advantage for improving her poll numbers.

One blogger explained it thusly:

"For some reason, Obama receives little credit for the time he served as an Illinois state Senator while Hillary gets to count everything she has done in the last 35 years as preparation for the presidency."

The experience issue shouldn't be a big deal, but it is. That's amazing.

Hillary, meet Mr. Experience and Prepare to Look Stupid

It's also amazing that Hillary would continue to push the issue of experience when it inevitably crashes at a dead end.

I recently discussed the fact that John McCain's ventures into the realm of pure political BS threatened his general election appeal as a "straight shooter". In order to wrap up Florida, he compromised the core of his campaign. He decided he had to destroy his candidacy in order to save it. Hillary isn't exactly doing the same thing, but she's walking a similarly foolhardy path.

One shouldn't spend months campaigning on experience when one knows she will eventually be forced to shed that skin in order to survive. Every time Hillary talks about the importance of experience, Republicans lick their chops. In the end, the experienced Ms. Clinton, if she should get the nomination, will be forced to run against someone who's experience qualifications will put hers to shame.

I can imagine the TV ads now. "We need a President with experience", Mrs. Clinton says. Cut to picture of John McCain. Talk about the years and years and years spent in Washington. Imagine Mitt Romney making comparisons between running MNCs and building hugely successful corporations from the ground up while Hillary Clinton was part-timing it with a doomed health care proposal. It's not pretty stuff.

Even if Hillary Clinton had a significant advantage over Barack Obama with respect to experience, she will probably be at an even more significant disadvantage should she secure her party's nomination. She will then face the unenviable task of backtracking from all of her "experience matters" crap in order to survive. She's guaranteed to look foolish and if her experience arguments resonated with the wider electorate in a real way, she may be digging at least a few inches of her own grave. Slate noted:

"Clinton's claim to superior experience isn't merely dishonest. It's also potentially dangerous should she become the nominee. If Clinton continues to build her campaign on the dubious foundation of government experience, it shouldn't be very difficult for her GOP opponent to pull that edifice down. That's especially true if a certain white-haired senator now serving his 25th year in Congress (four in the House and 21 in the Senate) wins the nomination. McCain could easily make Hillary look like an absolute fraud who is no more truthful about her depth of government experience than she is about why her mother named her 'Hillary.' ... If Clinton doesn't find a new theme soon, she won't just be cutting Obama's throat. She'll also be cutting her own."

She's probably just hoping the country's memory is short and that "what happens in the primaries stays in the primaries". That might be true. It would be a stinging indict of our system and proof of voter idiocy, but it might be true.

I hope not. I do hope that Clinton and Obama can get down to the nitty-gritty of discussing the real merits of their approaches and plans instead of playing games and relying on illusions like the phony experience gap. Fat chance, though. Hillary had Chelsea out in front of crowds today, arguing that her mom had the necessary experience for the job.

And so it continues... Every time Hillary Clinton pretends like experience is the key issue separating her from Obama and that it's reason to vote for her, a kitten dies.


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  1. While I agree 100% with the message of this blog, I just felt obligated to mention that the Republicans Experience won't matter for the average TV watching American. The only experience she's speaking of, and the experience she'll lay claim to when the Republicans try to show they have more experience, is her 8 years in the White house.

    I do think the Republicans are licking their chops, but I don't think it'll be an image of McCain they show with her voice over-lay of experience. I think it'll be the Bush's; Goerge W and George Senior. Make the White House experience look like a bad thing.

  2. I obviously completely agree with this argument, John. It's so obvious, really, you have to wonder what bullshit the Clintons must tell themselves each night to get through their lives. Kind of sad, really, that people would be that lost in their own bullshit. And a little dangerous for the leader of the free world.

    This is red flag for Democrats on this one. If this bullshit experience arguments wins the primary, excepting for some new, much stronger argument for a Clinton candidacy than what I have heard up until now, I will be voting John McCain in the general election and I imagine a lot of independents and unaffiliated people will too. Democrats are foolish if they think that the more leftist campaign of Hillary Clinton has a better shot of winning a general election than the more mainstream, centrist, and moderately more market-friendly campaign of Barack Obama. If she does, and I don't hear a better argument, I will be doing my bit for either a Democrat to beat her in the next primary or a Republican to beat her in the general election in the next election as well.

    Democrats are drinking too much of their own koolaid to think that America will be easily fooled by the more partisan and polarizing Clinton campaign. It's ironic, because it was the ability of Bill Clinton to transcend this tendency that made him more electable and a better President. But this campaign has traded in that strength on the bet that shoring up the base in a election year where liberalism has a stronger ear with the public because the their dissatisfaction with the Bush Administration, dissatisfaction that Hillary Clinton has responsibility for, as well, especially her vote for that war without taking any responsibility for that vote. Her not taking responsibility for that vote wouldn't be a problem for me if I thought she had a policy that would improve the situation. But I don't hear it from her campaign, and I hear far too much of this kind of bullshit instead.

    John McCain has a better understanding of the war, with all of its problems, I think. He also happens to have a better health care proposal, I think. And if he says that he would take up Barack's biggest strength - his constructive emphasis on diplomacy - there really is no competition, as far as I'm concerned, between the Clinton and the McCain campaign.

    That could change. But Clinton would have to start taking more seriously the direction of the Obama campaign and searching wide and deep for better ideas beyond her base. If she doesn't she could very likely lose the general election. And, at this point, I think she'd deserve it.

  3. Barack Obama is a bald gay nigger. Its the only way to best describe him. He is referred to simply as "President Fudge". He sucked Cole Hamels anus, ate his shit. He killed tens of thousands of people. Including American citizens on American soil. Taxpayers. President Fudge even targeted children in Newtown, Connecticut. Eric Holder refuses to do anything about Mr. Obama. Republicans are eerily quiet. Even tough guys like John McCain do nothing. Why should they--Christina Taylor isn't their granddaughter ! Mr. Obama weakened The Constitution for every single person. His gay wife just likes to dance around like a monkey and showcase their one knock-kneed daughter (with her relaxed European hairstyle) to show people she looks more white than the other one. President Poop's presidency is about as authentic as his degree from Columbia University (wonder why his academic records are sealed). Stay tuned....this shit is for real.