The recent release of Hillary Clinton’s White House schedules has reignited the debate surrounding her presidential experience. What the media seems to be missing is that the schedules do not shed much light on the question.
Of course, Hillary seems intent on exaggerating even when clear evidence exists. This week she was forced to admit that she “misspoke” when claiming that her 1996 Bosnia visit involved sniper fire. When a journalist pointed out that video of the event clearly contradicted her story, she claimed to have misspoken but offered no reason for the oversight.
But even outside of this episode, her larger claims of experience are problematic in important ways. Her time in the White House may have included unprecedented influence for a First Lady, but only as an unelected and un-appointed (and thus unaccountable) adviser.
Secondly, her involvement – with the exception of her spectacular failure during the health care debate – was mostly political and unrelated to the kind of executive leadership expected of the president.
Hillary’s attempts at being “co-president” were wrapped up in her complex relationship with her husband and contributed in key ways to the dysfunction of the administration.
When you are an elected or appointed official there are clear lines of authority and accomplishment. When you are a behind the scenes force, as Hillary was, you may wield influence but you can’t claim experience.
The one time she was given formal authority (the health care task force) revealed not only her lack of executive management skills but the problematic nature of having her play such a role. If a cabinet member or high level staffer fails in carrying out the president’s goals then they can be asked to resign. If the president’s spouse fails what happens?
After the health care debacle Hillary did the only thing she could do and she retreated toward more traditional First Lady duties. Does this mean she stopped being involved in her husband’s work? No, but it meant her role would never be formal again.
After the health care failure, Hillary was still involved in the administration, though not as a major policy advisor. Rather she became as a self-appointed political defender of her husband’s, and her, interests. She didn’t provide substantive policy advice so much as act as a uniquely positioned political staffer.
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