Monday, December 17, 2007

Experience? Huh?

Why does nobody challenge her on that absurd number?

IS HILLARY TIME COUNTED IN DOG YEARS?  I don't know if it's occurred to anybody in just these terms, but the Democrats are basically offering us three one-term senators as their best candidates for President. Edwards was a one-term wonder, Obama's a tad under that, and Hillary's a tad over. None of the three has any executive experience, military experience, or entrepreneurial experience. They've all spent more time campaigning for national office than they have serving in national office. The bald truth is that collectively, they have a total of 18 years of relevant experience for being the nation's chief executive and commander-in-chief, about half the 35 years Hillary is claiming for herself.

Oh, that's right. Her husband is making similar claims:

Former President Bill Clinton made an unusually direct attack Friday night on Senator Barack Obama, one of his wife’s leading rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination, suggesting that voters who would support someone with Mr. Obama’s experience were willing to “roll the dice” on the presidency.

Appearing on “The Charlie Rose Show” on PBS, Mr. Clinton repeatedly questioned Mr. Obama’s preparedness for the White House, noting that he took office in January 2005 and became a presidential candidate about two years later. (Mr. Obama was an Illinois state senator before that.)

“When is the last time we elected a president based on one year of service in the Senate before he started running?” Mr. Clinton said.

Excuse me? Is Bill Clinton the one person in the country who doesn't know that his wife was running for president before she served her first day in the senate? It's rolling the dice to go with Obama? And how is it that it's not a pure crapshoot to go with Hillary?

Let's be honest here. The experience advantage Bill Clinton keeps citing for his wife has to do not with her scant experience edge in the senate but with the years she spent with him while he was governor of Arkansas and president of the United States. Isn't it time to think about this supposed credential seriously? Plenty of commentators have been flippant about what can be called The Great Assumption, but how much time have her backers and critics spent actually analyzing Hillary's so-called presidential qualifications?

First Ladies have a lot to do, but being a confidante, adviser, promoter, defender, and helpmeet to an executive is not at all the same thing as sharing equally in that executive's duties, responsibilities, decisions, accomplishments, and failures. While Bill was organizing the U.S. military response in Kossovo, Hillary was organizing the White House Easter egg hunt. While Bill was managing federal budget compromises with the Republican congress, Hillary was managing the White House Christmas decorations. The two jobs may be complementary in some massively lopsided way, but one is hardly training for the other.

Much is made in this context of the fact that so many wives have been appointed, and subsequently elected, to replace dead husbands who were senators and congressmen. But being a backbench legislator carries more accountabilities than responsibilities. If constituents don't like your votes, they can fire you in the upcoming special election, and in the meantime, there's little chance any decision you make will cause economies to tank, soldiers to die, or emergencies to balloon into disasters. Unless and until you become a legislative leader, in fact, you can spend a lengthy legislative career hiding out in the undergrowth of party loyalty. Taking the oath of office as an executive, on the other hand, means accepting full responsibility as the boss from Day One. (Unless you're the Publisher of the New York Times.)

If just being there were an adequate credential for the presidency, the United States would have elected a lot more vice presidents to the nation's highest office. Yet in the twentieth century, sitting vice presidents had a five times better chance of getting promoted by the assassination, death, or resignation of their boss than by the electoral approval of the voters. Teddy Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, and Gerald Ford inherited the presidency without an election. Only George H. W. Bush won the presidency at the ballot box while serving as Vice President. And that's not because the Veeps weren't trying. Hubert Humphrey, Richard Nixon, and Al Gore all sought to succeed their presidents and failed to pass muster with the voters, the latter two as heirs apparent to popular two-term presidents. (If someone wants to point out that Nixon won the White House as a former vice president, please remember that his opponent was another vice president. One of them had to win. Also note that Walter Mondale and Henry A. Wallace tried the same feat as Nixon. And failed.)

Why this dismal record? Because even being vice president isn't enough like being president to convince the electorate you have what it takes to sit in the big chair. While vice presidents do get elected by official ballot, take an oath of office, attend meetings, preside over the senate, fill in for the president on numerous state and diplomatic occasions, and stand ready every day to step into huge responsibility at a moment's notice, they are still not walking in the president's shoes, merely treading in his footsteps. First ladies, on the other hand, are not elected, take no oath of office, and in fact have no official or constitutional duties of any kind. It's entirely possible for a First Lady to spend her husband's years in office doing nothing but show up at photo-ops -- and rather difficult to prove conclusively that she has done otherwise.  How on earth does this constitute any kind of credential?

This isn't South America, and as far I can tell Hillary isn't running as Evita anyway. For one thing, her husband is still alive.

Eva Peron

Does that mean we ought to let her get away with running as Chance the Gardener or as Zelig instead? Just because some past president her husband tells us we should?

"Being There" with "Zelig" and a couple past Presidents.

By the way, if you think there's anything sexist about my argument, I'd be delighted to hear from everyone who backed Mr. Thatcher to succeed his wife as Prime Minister of the U.K. or Mr. Meir to succeed his wife as Prime Minister of Israel.

EXTRA CREDIT ASSIGNMENT.  Hillary told David Gregory on NBC this morning that voters should select a candidate "based on our records." I didn't know First Ladies had "records." I always thought they had "styles" instead. So I'm trying to rectify my own ignorance here.

I promise to publish the best essay that compares and contrasts the historical "records" of at least five of the following First Ladies of the United States (FLOTUS) during their husbands' terms in office:

- George Washington's
- Thomas Jefferson's
- Andrew Jackson's
- James Buchanan's
- Abraham Lincoln's
- Teddy Roosevelt's
- Warren Harding's
- Woodrow Wilson's
- Franklin Roosevelt's (excluding cousins)
- Dwight Eisenhower's
- John F. Kennedy's
- Lyndon Johnson's
- Gerald Ford's
- Ronald Reagan's
- Bill Clinton's
- Jed Bartlet's
- George W. Bush's

Essays should focus on FLOTUS accomplishments and failures with respect to legislation passed, treaties signed, cabinet and other executive appointments, judicial nominations, foreign policy, military adventures, domestic initiatives, national crises, political movements, executive ability, all-around leadership, intangibles (face/figure/fashion/fidelity/fecklessness/frenzy/felonies), and historical legacy.

If you must, add other FLOTUSes than those named, but remember that allegations of substance abuse, stupidity, insanity, murder, occultism, adultery, homosexuality, incest, corruption, obstruction of justice, usurpation of power, and bribery/extortion constitute the politics of personal destruction and are not "records" per se unless they resulted in criminal convictions.

Be factual, analytical, tendentious, sententious, and amusing. Or at least amusing.

Actually, if you're not going to be amusing, don't bother. I've read enough tedious crap already this week.

Submissions can be made in the Comments Section or to the site email address (accompanied by a notification in Comments that an email submission has been made).

The prize is everlasting glory. And maybe a fat book contract with the kind of publisher who thinks history should be more about women than anything else. We'll let you know.

EXTRA EXTRA CREDIT. How many of the presidents above would have been willing to obtain an obscure and complex revenge against their wives (FLOTI) for the grievances that inevitably accrue in catastrophically unhappy marriages? Say, if you were the best politician of your generation and you were married to a castrating shrew who had made your entire life miserable despite political and popular success, how willing would you be to sabotage her life's dream under cover of "helping" her with "well intended" political "missteps" that guaranteed her ruin?

The Fisherman's Wife

Just asking.

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