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Experience Is to Hillary as 9/11 Is to Giuliani

01.22.2008 | POLITICS

Rudolph Giuliani's ritualistic incantations of 9/11 have become a national joke. In truth, his inspirational presence was overshadowed by his failure to prepare the city for a terrorist attack.

Also he failed to upgrade the infamous faulty radios used by first responders, many of whom he infuriated by calling off the search for bodies at Ground Zero just when the volunteers felt they were on the brink of finding more.

Hillary's got her own equivalent of Giuliani's 9/11: her "experience." It's gospel to much of the public but some in the media aren't buying it.

Like Timothy Noah at Slate: "Oh, please."

And Ari Emanuel on Huffington Post: "Give me a break."

What's the problem? For starters, the amount of experience she claims. "Thirty-five years takes you back to 1973," Noah writes, "half of which Hillary spent in law school, for crying out loud."

Emanuel asks, "And what about [Obama's] time at Harvard Law (where he was the first black president in the history of the Harvard Law Review)? Doesn't count? But your time at Yale Law does?"

Second, how much of that time was spent in government? Hillary's electability derives in large part from what she calls her "firsthand knowledge of what goes on inside a White House."

But, Noah writes, her "chief role [was] that of kibitzer." She "did not hold a security clearance, did not attend meetings of the National Security Council, and was not given a copy of the president's daily intelligence briefing."

Emanuel makes the case that, with Biden, Dodd, and Richardson out of the race, and Kucinich, who practically teethed on politics, marginalized, neither of the leading Democratic candidates has significant government experience.

"Going by years spent as an elective official," he writes, "Obama's 11 years exceeds Clinton's seven." But "even when you factor in Clinton's previous experience in the company of power," it comes out the same.

When Emanuel asks, "Where the hell does she come off claiming superior experience?" he shines a spotlight on the problem with the word. Experience, it seems, has two meanings, one nested inside the other.

First, experience refers to the quantity of your various experiences. Second, however presumptive, is the presumption that they lead to wisdom.

Which is why Obama's people oppose Hillary's vaunted experience with the concept of judgment. In other words, does the sum of Hillary's experiences pave the way for their metamorphosis into experience infused by knowledge?

According to Susan Rice at Huffington Post, Hillary has "fought to ensure our troops have the body armor they need while in combat, and she has passed laws so that returning soldiers are treated with dignity when they return home. She has placed education at the center of U.S. international assistance. She has been a leader in combating nuclear proliferation and the threat of nuclear terrorism."

On the other hand, we have her vote for the Iraq War Resolution. It not only helped condemn the Iraqi people to hell on earth, but became an open wound in her campaign. Thanks to judgment that can only be called short-sighted at best, there's no way her vote can be added to the tote board of her experience.

The same with the martial strains of her foreign policy in general. You probably remember when, speaking as the self-anointed voice of experience, Hillary told Obama that a president shouldn't make "blanket statements with respect to the use or nonuse of nuclear weapons."

Other questionable decisions that she made slipped beneath the radar. Unfortunately for her, they couldn't fit beneath the gateway of judgment. Like the examples above, they were thus barred from the realm of genuine experience.

For instance, during the Senate debate over the Iraq resolution, Hillary was the only Democrat (bear in mind that includes Lieberman) to sign off on all of Bush & Co.'s claims about Iraq.

Back in 2002, she voted in favor of an amendment prohibiting the United States from cooperating with the International Criminal Court. You know -- that body of justice that comes in handy for prosecuting little things like genocide in Darfur.

Also, she defended Israel's right to occupy Palestinian territory, not to mention its erection of The Wall. Then she disrespected another international body of law -- the International Court of Justice -- which she denounced for calling on Israel to abide by international humanitarian law.

Finally, she refused to support the international treaty to ban land mines. Then she voted down a Democratic-sponsored resolution restricting U.S. exports of cluster bombs to countries using them against civilian-populated areas.

Picture her sending those last two down the pipeline to the land of experience. Judgment's gatekeeper must have laughed in her face.

Bottom line, imagine if Clinton wins the nomination and, as Noah writes, "a certain white-haired senator now serving his 25th year in Congress (four in the House and 21 in the Senate) wins the nomination" for the Republicans. "McCain could easily make Hillary look like an absolute fraud."

It's starting to look like playing the experience card can win Hillary the nomination but lose her the election. As Noah sums up, "If Clinton doesn't find a new theme soon, she won't just be cutting Obama's throat. She'll also be cutting her own."

Any reflective American can't help but wonder at politicians like Giuliani, during 9/11, and Clinton, with her front-row seat in the White House, enduring what for us would no doubt constitute transformational experiences.

But all that's affirmed to them is their preconceptions. What's more empty than a life filled with experiences that don't add up to experience?

About the Author
Russ Wellen is an editor at Freezerbox who specializes in foreign affairs and nuclear deproliferation.
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