Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Something About Hillary

Tomorrow is the presidential primary here in the Old Dominion, and it’s put up or shut up time for this maven. You may remember that when Bill Richardson dropped out of the race several weeks ago I promised to vote for him anyway as the most qualified candidate. At the time, I expected that by the second week in February the nomination would already be wrapped up and I could cast my vote for Richardson as a protest. Well, to the delight of the Times-Dispatch editors, the way Virginia votes tomorrow could really affect the outcome of the nomination fight (at least for the Democrats) and so I have to decide who to vote for.

The maveness has been a devoted follower of Hillary Clinton’s run for the White House for more than a year. She has told me that before she dies (which I pray will be many years in the future) she wants to see a woman elected as President of the United States. I can understand how she and many other women feel. In our country’s two hundred thirty years there have been many women who could have provided great leadership but were denied the opportunity to run for president. And, clearly, many of the men we have elected to be numero uno have been pretty mediocre. So, I do agree with my wife that it’s about time for a woman to be president.

However, just as I wouldn’t vote against a candidate because she is a woman, I will not vote for one on those grounds either. I will evaluate a candidate’s experience and policies and leadership ability and will vote for that candidate regardless of his/her sex.

Senator Clinton’s campaign has focused on her experience. I must have heard her brag about her “thirty five years” of experience at least twenty times. So what exactly was Hillary doing during those thirty five years? Thirty five years ago was 1973. In 1973, Hillary Clinton graduated from Yale Law School. According to her bio on the Washington Post’s website (
http://projects.washingtonpost.com/2008-presidential-candidates/hillary-clinton/), Hillary’s first job was as a staffer for the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives where she worked for one year. After that she served for one year on the faculty of the University of Arkansas Law School. She then was employed by the Rose law firm in Little Rock where she worked from 1976 through 1992. Meanwhile, Mrs. Clinton’s husband was elected Governor of Arkansas and so from 1979 to 1981 and then from 1983 through 1993 she was the First Lady of Arkansas. When her husband became President of the United States in 1993, Hillary Clinton became First Lady of the United States. Most recently, with the expiration of Bill Clinton’s second term as president, Mrs. Clinton was elected United States Senator from New York. She has served in the Senate from 2001 until the present.

Every moment of people’s lives will affect them in whatever job they perform, including being President of the United States. So all of Hillary’s personal and professional life will mold what kind of president she may be. However, Senator Clinton claims that there is something special about the last thirty five years that make her particularly qualified to be president.

We can discount her first two jobs out of law school, as a congressional staffer and as a law school “faculty member,” as having no real relevance to being president. I’m also not sure how her years with the Rose law firm make her any more qualified to be president than thousands of other attorneys practicing law for influential law firms throughout the country. So, the thirty five years of experience upon which Senator Clinton bases her claim to the White House must really be the twelve years she was the governor’s wife in Arkansas and the eight years she was the president’s wife in Washington, D.C. (and, of course, the seven years that she has served as the Junior Senator from New York).

There have been some very influential first ladies in our country’s history. It is said, for example, that after Woodrow Wilson suffered a debilitating stroke in 1919, Edith Wilson was acting as president for the remainder of his term. This may be the truth, or it may be more legend than fact. Eleanor Roosevelt, as first lady, was so active in government matters that she became a political actor in Washington almost independent of her husband. Some would say that Mrs. Roosevelt served at least as significant a role in motivating the country to get through the Depression and World War II then did President Roosevelt.

There have been other first ladies who came to Washington with a passion to accomplish some public good during their tenure, in addition to their purely ceremonial role as hostess of the White House. Rossalynn Carter, Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush, Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush have all accomplished much as First Lady.

But Senator Clinton argues that her tenures as First Lady first of Arkansas and then of the United States provided her with the type of experience that would enable her to “hit the ground running” on January 20, 2009. I find it hard to buy her assertion.

It is true, that Bill Clinton assigned more responsibility to his wife than did other presidents. For example, he appointed her chair of the President’s Council on Health Care Reform. In that roll she became only the third first lady to testify before a committee of the Congress. However, as I remember it, the recommendations that came out of that council were so controversial that the president decided not to push for its passage. Mrs. Clinton continued engaged in various political issues and lobbied successfully for the passage of several significant programs during her tenure as first lady. But, I still have not heard how any of her experiences as first lady are relevant to being president.

It is true that Hillary and Bill Clinton lived together in the White House residence. This provided them the opportunity to discuss public policy issues and the president often asked for his wife’s advice. However, this factor is not unique to the Clintons. All of the presidents and first ladies shared the White House residence and many of the presidents discussed public policy with their wives.

Regardless of how much responsibility her husband may have given her, we need to remember that being first lady is not close to being the president. First ladies are not responsible for leading the Executive Branch of government. First ladies do not serve as Commander in Chief of United States military forces. First ladies do not make foreign or domestic policy decisions. They do not make appointments to the Cabinet or the federal courts. They do not negotiate treaties with foreign governments. They do not have the awesome (or awe full) responsibility of controlling our nation’s nuclear arsenal. In short, for first ladies, the buck does NOT stop here.

So, in this maven’s mind, the only experience that Senator Clinton has that would relate to her being President of the United State is the seven years she has served in the United States Senate. No matter whether I count with a calculator or on my fingers, this does not amount to “thirty five” years experience.

But, dear reader, although her claim to all that experience bothers me, it is not the major problem I have with Senator Clinton. Look, I have no doubt as to her leadership abilities. I have seen her performance in the campaign during this past year and I am convinced that she has the ability to be president. I approve of most of her policy positions. In fact, I find it very hard to explain objectively what it is about Hillary that leaves me feeling uneasy. This is particularly bothersome to a maven, who should be making decisions based on objective criteria, not based on feelings.

Perhaps my feeling is that the Hillary Clinton we have been seeing since this campaign began is not the real Hillary Clinton. It seems that Hillary Clinton the presidential candidate is a carefully rehearsed character. There is just something about Hillary that doesn’t seem genuine. It is clear that she is extremely intelligent. She seems to come up with the right answers to most of the questions that the media and her opponents have thrown at her. But I have the feeling that the views she expresses are not necessarily her own; they seem more the consensus opinion by all her advisors of what she should be saying.

On top of that, I have the feeling that there is something about Hillary that is being hidden from us. It’s like the ads for the product are all well thought out and well presented but there is something that they’re not telling us. Maybe this feeling I have is leftover from the bitter taste I had during the last years of Bill Clinton’s presidency. Although I do believe that much of the aura of scandal that floated around the Clintons during their tenure in the White House was manufactured by those who couldn’t abide Bill Clinton being president, I am still upset by President Clinton’s behavior with respect to Monica. Not only did he lack the ability to keep his pants zipped up in the Oval Office, but when he was caught he lied about it, both in a sworn deposition and in a televised statement to the American people.

Perhaps it is unfair of me to have my feelings about Bill Clinton prejudice my feelings toward Hillary. I would really like to be able to judge her candidacy purely on the facts. But I just can’t seem to do that. There is just something about Hillary . . .

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