Clinton Slams Obama’s Experience, Bushes Praise Clinton’s

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama Photo Experience has been a recurring theme in the 2008 campaign. Yesterday, Hillary Clinton went on the offensive, belittling Barack Obama’s foreign policy experience while Clinton got some unexpected support from President and Mrs. Bush.

Hillary Rodham Clinton ridiculed Democratic rival Barack Obama on Tuesday for his contention that living in a foreign country as a child helped give him a better understanding of the foreign policy challenges facing the U.S. ‘‘Voters will have to judge if living in a foreign country at the age of 10 prepares one to face the big, complex international challenges the next president will face,’’ Clinton said. ‘‘I think we need a president with more experience than that, someone the rest of the world knows, looks up to and has confidence in.’’

Clinton’s statement was prompted by a comment Obama made a day earlier when asked about his foreign policy credentials. He said his life experience gave him a better feel for international issues than most candidates gain from official trips to other nations. He noted his father was from Kenya and that he himself spent part of his childhood in Indonesia. ‘‘Probably the strongest experience I have in foreign relations is the fact I spent four years overseas when I was a child in Southeast Asia,’’ he said Monday.

Obama’s claim is rather silly. I lived overseas for extended periods as a child, owing to my father’s military career. There’s no doubt that this was broadening and gave me a level of exposure to another culture than I’d have had I never left Houston (where I lived from just before my third birthday to just before my tenth). But it would never occur to me to cite this as “foreign policy experience.”

Obama’s retort, though, is pretty clever:

Bill Burton, a spokesman for Mr. Obama, said in response to Mrs. Clinton: “Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld have spent time in the White House and traveled to many countries as well. But along with Hillary Clinton, they led us into the worst foreign policy disaster in a generation.”

It reminds me of Ross Perot’s response to a similar question in the 1992 debates, faced against President George H.W. Bush and then-Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton:

I don’t have any experience in running up a $4 trillion debt. I don’t have any experience in gridlock government, where nobody takes responsibility for anything and everybody blames everybody else.

Meanwhile, the Bushes bolstered Clinton’s claims of experience.

President Bush and First Lady Laura Bush said Tuesday that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s experience as first lady has prepared her to handle the “pressure” of a presidential race and the White House, and the president said he believes Clinton will win the Democratic nomination but lose the presidency next year.

[…]

“I think she’s a very formidable candidate, and one of the interesting things that she brings is that she has been under pressure. She understands the klieg lights,” the president said, in a phrase he repeated twice in the interview. “No question, there is no question that Senator Clinton understands pressure better than any of the candidates, you know, in the race because she lived in the White House and sees it first –could see it first-hand,” the president told ABC News’ Charlie Gibson Tuesday afternoon at the presidential retreat at Camp David.

[…]

Mrs. Bush said that the experience of serving as first lady would be “very helpful” in preparing someone to become president — “in the abstract.” “You certainly know what it’s like. I mean there’s no doubt about it, you know, you know the pressure,” she said. “I think it’s very helpful. I mean I think it was very helpful for us to have been around the White House as much as we were when his parents served there.”

[…]

Reflecting on the obstacles facing any candidate for the White House, the First Lady said, “I think that what the American people don’t know is how difficult it is to run for president, to run for office, and how much both emotional and physical stamina you need to run for office and I think that’s what George is talking about.”

When asked by Gibson whether the candidates could ever know the psychological and physical burdens they might face in office, the President replied, “No, you can’t… till you actually get in there, and understand the responsibilities that come with the office, you can’t possibly, can’t possibly comprehend it.”

I’ve argued several times that Clinton’s experience as First Lady is perhaps one notch below that gained by a stint as Vice President or White House Chief of Staff. While not decision-makers — being a policy advisor isn’t the same as being the one who has to live with the consequences — those roles are the ones that give the best perspective on the day-to-day running of the Oval Office.

Now, there’s no reason to think that a long-serving governor or senator isn’t prepared to do the job; many of our best presidents have come from those backgrounds. But governors don’t have foreign policies, beyond perhaps some trade relations, and senators don’t have executive responsibilities.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. yetanotherjohn says:

    The Bush quote reminds me of the poison scene in Princess Bride. Does Bush supportive statements trigger BDS in the democrats and a subsequent melt down in her chances. Or do the democrats think that Bush is just trying to get them to disown the candidate best able to beat the GOP. Or is this just a clever GOP trick to make the left think the republicans fear Clinton when they know her negatives are so high she can’t possible win. Or…

  2. M1EK says:

    A far more interesting news story begging for your comment is McClellan’s book excerpt regarding the Plame affair.

  3. William d'Inger says:

    The Bush quote reminds me of the poison scene in Princess Bride. Does Bush supportive statements trigger BDS in the democrats and a subsequent melt down in her chances. Or do the democrats think that Bush is just trying to get them to disown the candidate best able to beat the GOP. Or is this just a clever GOP trick to make the left think the republicans fear Clinton when they know her negatives are so high she can’t possible win. Or…

    I saw the interview and IMHO the Bushes were just being honest. I know the simple answer doesn’t satisfy the cynics, but this is a case where Occam’s razor applies.

  4. yetanotherjohn says:

    William,

    I would tend to agree. Bush tends very much not to be a double dealer. But the left’s hatred for Bush is not rational. So I can see them spinning down the vortex of looking for triple meaning in what he says.

  5. Grewgills says:

    Bush tends very much not to be a double dealer.

    Thanks, I needed a laugh.

  6. An Interested Party says:

    The left’s hatred for Bush is no more irrational than the right’s hatred for the Clintons. Indeed, it will be fascinating and hilarious to watch a return of CDS next year should Hillary be elected president. We’re already seeing previews of CDS on the comments section of this blog, among many other places.

  7. floyd says:

    An interested party;
    Actually,the left’s hatred of President Bush and the Iraq war is merely the “acting out” of a bunch of pathetic hippies from the sixties trying to recapture their lost youth by reliving their hatred of President Nixon and the Viet Nam war, while dragging their children into the fray with stories of faded glory!

  8. Grewgills says:

    Actually,the left’s hatred of President Bush and the Iraq war is merely…

    That is about a s accurate as saying,
    The right’s love of Bush and support for the war is merely the acting out of a bunch of pathetic neocons trying to recapture their lost pride by trying to live out their fantasy of what would have happened in Vietnam if only…

  9. floyd says:

    Grewgills;
    Ya think?
    At least not to anything like the same degree…. if at all! [lol]

    I remember having “Save America impeach Nixon”
    printed on the sides of my Studebaker[just for a Lark][grinz]
    BOY!! Would HE ever look like a GIANT among midgets today![lol]