President Obama and other supporters have called Hillary Clinton the most qualified man or woman to ever seek the office. A statement like that almost has to be political hyperbole, but how does Clinton compare to former chief executives?
Firstly, the reason the statement is hyperbole is because it’s a somewhat arbitrary comparison. The 31st president, Herbert Hoover, had a long life of service in the public and private sectors. He was the President who presided over the beginning of the Great Depression. Conversely, Dwight Eisenhower’s qualifications to become the 34th president was simply kicking the Nazi’s asses and putting Europe back together.
Secondly, the early Presidents of the United States were extraordinarily accomplished men, outside of George Washington. Like Eisenhower, his only experience was being a military leader and he essentially invented the duties of the office. His fellow founding fathers, however, had extensive state experience.
Thomas Jefferson was governor of Virginia, secretary of state, and ambassador to France (and wrote the Declaration of Independence). James Monroe was secretary of war, secretary of state, governor of Virginia, ambassador to both the United Kingdom and France, and a senator.
It goes on. Martin Van Buren was a senator, governor, state attorney general, secretary of state, and ambassador. John Quincy Adams served in the House, the Senate, and was ambassador to three major nations before becoming secretary of state and then president. All of these candidates’ pre-White House experiences easily rival or surpass Clinton’s.
In the first 50 years of the office, foreign policy experience was of equal importance to domestic experience, simply because the country was so new. It was just as important that foreign leaders respect the president as Americans themselves. After 1826, when Andrew Jackson was elected (his experience was all domestic). Since then, only Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, and George H.W. Bush had notable foreign policy expertise.
Clinton’s experience is harder to define. First, we have to consider the appropriate way to treat her service as First Lady of both Arkansas and the United States. In Arkansas she led a campaign (in her position as an attorney at the prestigious Rose Law firm) against office sexism. She also reformed Arkansas schools. Other than Eleanor Roosevelt, Clinton was the most politically active first lady at the national level, taking on healthcare and mucking with foreign policy, such as when she took a harsher tone with China than the Administration wanted.
As a Senator, she was involved in bipartisan legislative efforts, seemingly more focused on results. Whether this was to establish her political résumé or because she cared for the issues (or both) is a matter of perspective. But one can’t deny that she has a record of working with the Republicans, a key accomplishment for those in the center who hate the political gridlock.
Her record as Secretary of State is more checkered. She has been characterized as “risk-averse” and President Obama is known as a micro-manager of his foreign policy. In the wake of the Bush years, the Obama Administration wanted to focus on “ending” the wars* and mending fences with allies. Sadly, for Clinton, this meant “no signal accomplishment at the State Department to her name, no indelible peace sealed with her handshake, no war averted, no nuclear crisis defused,” according to Politico.
Ultimately, her qualifications are impressive. However in a year when many voters are mad as hell at the political establishment, her experience may be detrimental to her ability to win over those demographics.
What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
*Note: Meaning officially ending the military operations in favor of a new one, with drastically drawn-down numbers in Afghanistan. They also did not seem to fight very hard to keep troops in Iraq, as expected (and they were offered a bad deal). We all know how that turned out.