"No experience matters," former President Bill Clinton told PBS' Charlie Rose last week. "I mean, in theory, we could find someone who is a gifted television commentator." But to elect such a candidate -- read: Barack Obama -- president would be to "roll the dice."
Thus Bubba framed the Democratic primary as a contest between a handsome but empty Obama and a Hillary Clinton who often touts her 35 years of experience -- Clinton also took the opportunity to talk up the possibility of a John Edwards win in Iowa.
Neither Clinton saw much virtue in experience in 1992 -- when the Arkansas governor was challenging the very experienced President George H.W. Bush. Now HRC is running as the experienced Democrat. She's the nonincumbent incumbent.
With 35 years experience, no less.
Hillary Clinton has been in the U.S. Senate for seven years. Before that, she spent eight years as first lady -- and she did more than pick out the drapes. Mrs. C had a role in many Clinton initiatives, including as chair of her husband's failed health care reform task force.
Still, her most valuable political skill was to neutralize her husband's "bimbo eruptions." In 1992, she appeared with her husband on "60 Minutes" as he admitted to straying in his marriage, but denied having an affair with singer Gennifer Flowers -- a false denial, it turns out. In 1998, Hillary Clinton blamed the Monica Lewinsky story on a "vast right-wing conspiracy."
Somehow those 15 years have expanded like dog years into "35 years fighting for what I believe in." That is, Clinton's political years include her 15 years as a corporate lawyer, her three years as a law school professor, as well as her tenure as first lady of Arkansas.
Four years after Democrats nominated John Kerry, who trumpeted his decorated service in Vietnam, Hillary Clinton is also the "experience" candidate with no military experience. (Let me inject that the real experience candidate is John McCain.)
Campaigning in Iowa Sunday, Clinton compared herself to cattle on sale: "I know that you're going to inspect me -- you can look inside my mouth if you want." Clinton also has told voters, "I've been vetted. I've been tested. There are no surprises."
I was surprised to learn from Bill Clinton last month that he had opposed the Iraq war "from the beginning." That's surprising considering that Sen. Clinton voted for the resolution to authorize the use of military force in Iraq. At the time, she noted that in 1998, "President Clinton, with the British and others, ordered an intensive four-day air assault, Operation Desert Fox, on known and suspected weapons of mass destruction sites and other military targets." Known WMD sites? Did Bill Clinton lie about WMD?
Hillary Clinton's most important experience is as a senator. She reached across the aisle to pass legislation with even Republicans and worked behind the scenes with seasoned Democrats. As Mark Halperin and John Harris wrote in "The Way to Win, Taking the White House in 2008," "She co-sponsored legislation and engaged in advocacy with nearly every conservative member of the Senate and with other prominent Republicans. Most notably, she blunted the memory of her health care fiasco by participating in health care events with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich."
In the process, Clinton won over New York voters.
But no surprises with Bill Clinton? If so, it is because it is not surprising that vetted and tested Clintons will say anything -- 35 years of experience, against the war from the beginning. Whatever.