Co-president seeking her third term


Does my wife, by virtue of her 20 years of challenging association with me, possess the relevant experience to become a newspaper columnist on politics?

And consider the case of the service station mechanic down the way. He's been ill lately. Maybe I could get his wife to change my car's points and plugs.

If, that is, Hillary Clinton is to be believed on the matter of a wife getting job-qualifying credit for her husband's experience.

It's indeed odd that Clinton asserts -- and is generally conceded -- a clear advantage in relevant experience over her Democratic rivals.

She's been in the U.S. Senate less time than John Edwards, and Edwards actually ran on a national ticket, as the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2004. Clinton has served in the U.S. Senate twice as long as Barack Obama -- but, then, Obama did seven years as an Illinois state senator. That ought to count for something, especially considering that Hillary never held elected office herself before becoming a U.S. senator from New York in 2001.

Before going to the White House with her husband, Clinton had been a corporate lawyer and a Wal-Mart board member. True, she'd ventured out as first lady of Arkansas, in 1983, via her husband's appointment, to head a commission drafting new curriculum and performance standards for the state's public schools. But I'm not sure anyone wants to say that mandating extra units of math and science commends one for the American presidency.

We haven't even brought up U.S. Sens. Joe Biden and Chris Dodd, Democratic presidential also-rans who have it all over Clinton when it comes to time and foreign policy experience in the Senate.

The point is that Hillary presumes to get credited with relevant experience for what her husband achieved. And she seeks and seems to get that credit singularly, even historically.

No other president's wife, save perhaps Eleanor Roosevelt, would presume to lay any remotely similar claim, much less be conceded it. Laura Bush does not suggest that she possesses that kind of experience. Her mother-in-law didn't. Nor did Nancy Reagan, or Rosalyn Carter, or Betty Ford.

Those were, or are, strong, intelligent and competent women. But they didn't operate as West Wing co-presidents. Whatever influence they had -- and it was surely great at times -- came personally through those powerfully intimate spousal channels.

These women didn't take charge of health care. They didn't get sold by their husbands as the other half of a two-for-one presidential deal.

Hillary stands before us to ask for an exclusive third term of a presidency she essentially claims to have shared for two previous terms with a guy who was the vote-getting front man.

When Clinton speaks of health care, she does so as one who actually once tried to run it, and perhaps learned valuable and applicable lessons. When she speaks of trade, she does so as one who didn't want her husband to press NAFTA. When she ponders foreign relations, or the pressures between third-way and old-way domestic Democratic politics, she does so as one who has pondered them in active and essentially equal partnership with an internationally popular former president who has long navigated that tight rope between third-way and old-way Democratic politics.

Of all the Democratic candidates, Clinton offers the least experience in terms of a formal resume. But, off paper, she has the most actual and practical experience.

She can't actually write on that resume -- co-president, 1993-2001. But she can plainly imply it.

And a lot of people seem to be buying it.

John Brummett is an award-winning columnist for the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock and author of "High Wire," a book about Bill Clinton's first year as president. His e-mail address is jbrummett@ arkansasnews.com.

 

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