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