Experience is not one of Hillary Clinton's assets.

Gossip, speculation, and scuttlebutt about politics.
Jan. 14 2008 7:16 PM

Hillary's "Experience" Lie

If that's her selling point, put me down for Obama.

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Oh, please. Thirty-five years takes you back to 1973, half of which Hillary spent in law school, for crying out loud. I don't mean to denigrate her professional experience. Clinton worked many years in corporate and public-interest law, performed advocacy work for the Children's Defense Fund and other groups, and was a university lecturer. She also devoted herself to raising a seemingly bright and loving daughter, which is no small feat, particularly given the public spotlight and some conspicuously bad behavior on the father's part.

But in government, Clinton's chief role over the years has been that of kibitzer. An important kibitzer, to be sure—what spouse isn't?—but not a direct participant. Clinton emphasizes in particular her profound experience in foreign policy. Here she is on Dec. 20:

It is tempting any time things seem quieter for a minute on the international front to think that we don't need a president who's up to speed on foreign affairs and military matters. Well, that's the kind of logic that got us George Bush in the first place. Experience in foreign affairs is critical for ending the war in Iraq, averting war in Iran, negotiating a Middle East peace and dealing with North Korea.

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But a Dec. 26 New York Times story revealed that during her husband's two terms in office, Hillary Clinton did not hold a security clearance, did not attend meetings of the National Security Council, and was not given a copy of the president's daily intelligence briefing. During trips to Bosnia and Kosovo, she "acted as a spokeswoman for American interests rather than as a negotiator." On military affairs, most of her experience derives not from her White House years but from serving on the Senate armed services committee. In this capacity, William Kristol notes gleefully in the Jan. 14 New York Times, Clinton told Gen. David Petraeus this past September that his reports of military progress in Iraq—since shown to be undeniable—required "the willing suspension of disbelief." (What Kristol and Clinton both fail to say is that the surge's laudable military success has created a short-term opportunity that the Iraqi government and Bush himself are doing tragically little to seize. For example, a much-touted move by the Iraqi parliament to open government jobs to former members of the Baath party is, according to a Jan. 14 New York Times story, "riddled with loopholes and caveats to the point that some Sunni and Shiite officials say it could actually exclude more former Baathists than it lets back in.")

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." Dennis Kucinich has more government experience than Clinton. (He also has a better health-care plan, but we'll save that for another day.) 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.

Timothy Noah is a former Slate staffer. His  book about income inequality is The Great Divergence.