The Clinton “Experience” Myth

Talk to a Clinton supporter, and you often find that they explain or defend their choice by noting that she’s "more experienced" and "more detailed." And because Obama is such a powerful orator, you often hear complaints from Clinton supporters that he is just an empty suit who can make good speeches.

But probe a little more deeply, and you usually find these folks don’t have a lot of detail or substance to back up their claims. They usually don’t really know what substantive experience Hillary had as First Lady, or that she really hasn’t done that much as a Senator. They don’t know that Obama, with less time in the Senate, has actually produced more substantive legislation in the Senate than Hillary, or that he has been a legislator longer than Hillary when you combine his Illinois and Washington experience. They haven’t learned that Obama has put forth considerable detail about his plans.

They’re just repeating the archetypes set before them by the press, who
boil down the differences between Obama and Clinton to: "more detailed and experienced" vs.
"powerful orator."

Jeff Jarvis, a blogger who voted for Hillary today, is a perfect example of this phenomenon. I’m picking on him because he is a prominent blogger and wrote a blog post today explaining his vote for Hillary as a vote for the "more experienced" and "more detailed" candidate, and I thought it would be useful to post the response I wrote on his blog:

You’ve got to be kidding me. This is, as the Brits would say, “rich.”

You’ve bought in to the two biggest media myths of them all, pushed by the Clinton campaign and echoed in the press, that somehow Hillary Clinton is a proven manager, with more experience. And that she has been more detailed in her positions than Obama.

First, on the detail point: you don’t have to work to hard to find plenty of speeches or debates or white papers, where Obama has been very detailed about his positions. Just one small example: did you watch (or listen) to his articulate, detailed explanation of his health care plan in the debates the other night? The claim that Hillary is somehow “more detailed” is bogus. It gets focus from the press because, really, it’s the only strength she has.

On Hillary’s supposed claim to more experience. What exactly has she managed? What specific experience does she bring to the office?

Perhaps you’re thinking of the botched job running the health care task force in 1993? (Yes the Republicans didn’t offer much help, but the most stringent criticism of her performance came from fellow Democrats on the Hill — go read the history).

Or maybe you’re thinking of her good judgement to vote for the Iraq war authorization, without having even read the NIE? (Bob Graham read it — one of the few who did — and voted against the bill because he could see the intelligence was shoddy).

Another great bit of irony: if you really want a manager as President, then Jimmy Carter was your man. No President in the past 50 years was a more hands-on, technocratic micro-manager than President Carter. If Hillary wins, you’ll get your Jimmy Carter manager all right.

Finally, like so many Clinton supporters, you’ve forgotten what Presidents really do and why rhetoric matters in politics. To get stuff done, you need to build a strong governing coalition. The most successful Presidents of the past 100 years understood that, and used powerful rhetoric to inspire people to their cause.

If you’re a Democrat, you need to get people elected to Congress from Idaho, or Kansas, or Nebraska, or Arizona. Not just the coasts. Obama connects with voters in those states as well as those on the coasts in ways Clinton could only dream of. Can you imagine Hillary pulling 15,000 people in Boise?