I’ve been thinking about the experience issue between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama recently. It seems as if the issue has disappeared from the mouths of professional pundits, but it’s one that a lot of people are probably influenced by. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s something of a rorschach test, like much of the democratic primary.
Hillary Clinton has more years as a United States senator (7 to 3). Barack Obama has more years in elected office (11 to 7). Hillary Clinton has more years as a public figure (a whole ton). How do we weight those factors? If we look at the first two, the role of a US senator is probably what is most important, and it gives Clinton the edge. Yet this is an odd issue for this campaign: neither candidate has a truly distinguished record of holding public office–contrast them to Chris Dodd and Joe Biden, candidates whose two and three decades of service as Senators earned them nothing.†
So if this is an issue, it depends on Hillary Clinton’s time as first lady. I think it would be foolish to deny that this experience counts for something. For eight years, she was at the heart of what was going on in the Clinton administration, and she must have learned something from that time.
The rorschach test is deciding how much that counts? Is it just an extra little bit of credit that she gets, an intangible, but not one that would sway your opinion? Or will the experience she has from that time make her much more ready to get things done the moment she enters the White House? I’m an Obama supporter, which indicates that I have an opinion: I think that he’s got experience enough and that the experience that she has didn’t prevent her from making a number of gross mistakes (voting for the Iraq war being the big one).
Nonetheless, the more I think, the more I’ve come to think that it’s hard to make a charge like that stick. I’ve come to see the experience issue as impossible to adjudicate. Surely there’s some fact of the matter out there, but I can’t demonstrate my position to someone who sees Clinton’s experience as important anymore than they can demonstrate the importance of that experience to me. In some ways that’s good news: the campaign has bogged down in these interminable issues because there are no major divisions in the party, because all the candidates have a lot of good ideas.
† Both candidates also have interesting experience outside of public affairs. Weighing that goes well beyond what I’m doing here, though it could be important.