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« Why Eliot Spitzer's conduct matters | Main | Yes, men are *that* shallow, apparently »

March 26, 2008


UIOWA Law Blog



Well, you could even consider the opposite to be true? Even with all the experience that the elder Bush had, he wasn't all that great of a president either. In the grand scheme of things, does experience even matter? As you said, look at how inexperienced Bill Clinton was, and he turned out OK (that is, if you can overlook his lying and the whole Lewinsky thing).


If Hillary Clinton's main claim to the Democratic nomination over Barack Obama is her greater "experience" (in what?), then can we safely assume that she also believes that the country made a mistake in electing her husband in 1992?

I don't think you can jump quite that far. She may think that what you need is some experience, not that in all cases, more experience = better. She may think there is a threshold of minimal experience needed for a president to be effective and that Obama -- with his three years in the Senate (mostly spent campaigning for the presidency) -- simply doesn't have it. This is not a particularly hard argument to make.

Tung Yin

Fair enough, but first, it's not just three years in the Senate for Obama; it's also his years in the Illinois state senate. Besides, if Clinton gets to claim as part of 35 years of experience her time as First Lady, her pro bono work while at the Rose Law Firm, and other such stuff, I think Obama gets to claim his time as a community organizer. I don't see how the "threshold" for experience lets her (and her husband) in, but not Obama.


Besides, if Clinton gets to claim as part of 35 years of experience her time as First Lady, her pro bono work while at the Rose Law Firm, and other such stuff,

I think her 35 year claim is ludicrous -- at most, it's her 7 years in the Senate + her 8 years as a highly unconventional First Lady. But that's 15 years as a high-level participant in the national political discussion. Obama has got 3. He could make this experience deficit up, I think, if he had been a governor or a high-ranking general or something, and could point to a record of executive competence and achievement. There's an executive => executive (as contrasted with national => national) linkage there that many skeptics, myself included, could find compelling. That would probably even have contrasted quite favourably with Clinton's health care fiasco in the early 90s, particularly for a Democratic party that got kicked out of power for the next decade, partly as a result of her mishandling of the plan. But he doesn't have anything even remotely like that.

True, he has his years in the state senate -- but I can't think of any other modern case in which someone has had to reach down to time spent as a state legislator to justify their claim that they are prepared for the Presidency. The issues one handles at that level are rather different, and almost no one pays attention but activists and political obsessives. How many people can even name a member of their state legislature?

And yes, he can point to his years as a community organizer. But being a community organizer, or a social worker, or a pro bono lawyer -- while worthy in itself -- is not really at all comparable to the Presidency. We might as well let middle managers in international conglomerates, or junior i-bankers claim that they have the experience to govern the country. It's experience, sure, but one would generally like the experience to have some relation, however tenuous, to the job one is applying for.

The last -- and to my mind, most ridiculous -- experience claim that Obama has sometimes made is his claim that having gone to elementary school abroad for a few years gives him meaningful preparation in foreign affairs. By that standard, half my family are more qualified than he is to conduct the foreign policy of the United States. I can't believe people find this argument remotely compelling.


If one is experienced, the first area that expertise should show is in one's preparations to actually win the presidency. Hillary's mismanagement and miscalculations on her own campaign largely call into question her ability to imagine "unexpected alternatives." Having been part of numerous campains at a higher level than Obama, that experience has gone for naught because reality did not conform to her preconceived notions (of having a cakewalk). Experience without good judgement.

In any case, when we elect a president we elect a team of people and the experience of any one person is not hugely important.

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