The Democrats' Experience Gap

None of the Democratic frontrunners is qualified to be president of the United States. How do I know? They say so themselves. This week, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., attacked odds-on-favorite Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., explaining that Hillary’s years in the White House weren’t her years — they were her husband’s. "The fact of the matter is that Sen. Clinton is claiming basically the entire eight years of the Clinton presidency as her own, except for the stuff that didn’t work out," Obama said. "There is no doubt that Bill Clinton had faith in [Hillary] and consulted with her on issues, in the same way that I would consult with Michelle [Obama’s wife], if there were issues. I don’t think Michelle would claim that she is the best qualified person to be a United States Senator by virtue of me talking to her." Obama went further on Hillary’s claims to be an expert on economics: "I am happy to compare my experiences to hers when it comes to the economy. My understanding is that she wasn’t Treasury secretary in the Clinton administration. I don’t know exactly what experiences she’s claiming."

Hillary quickly fired back. "Considering that Sen. Obama was a state senator just three years ago, he is the last person to be questioning anyone’s experience," responded Clinton spokesman Phil Singer. "If he is elected, he would have less experience than any American president of the 20th century." Clinton also blindsided Obama on his claims that growing up in Indonesia qualifies him to handle foreign policy: "Voters will have to judge if living in a foreign country at the age of 10 prepares one to face the big, complex international challenges the next president will face."

Here’s the difference between the Republican field and the Democratic field: The frontrunners in the Democratic Party argue over who is less experienced, while the frontrunners in the GOP argue over who is more experienced.

Hillary Clinton has made a career of riding her husband’s coattails and playing the victim — and with seven years in the Senate, she’s the most experienced top-tier Democratic candidate. Barack Obama won his Senate seat by default when Republican candidate Jack Ryan imploded; Obama has served a grand total of three years in the Senate, much of it campaigning for president. John Edwards of North Carolina served one term in the Senate before joining the doomed Kerry-Edwards 2004 ticket.

The Republican field, by contrast, is rich with executive experience. Rudy Giuliani was mayor of New York City for eight years, leading the city through the worst crisis in its history on September 11; Mitt Romney was governor of Massachusetts; Mike Huckabee was governor of Arkansas for 11 years. The Republican candidates from the Senate are highly experienced: John McCain has represented Arizona as a Senator since 1986; Fred Thompson served nine years in the Senate, representing Tennessee.

Experience isn’t everything. Abraham Lincoln served one term in the U.S. House of Representatives, lost his bid for the Senate in 1858, and then became president in 1860. But Clinton, Obama and Edwards aren’t Lincoln. They’re relative newcomers with vaguely pacifistic ideas about foreign policy, utopian notions about domestic spending, and far-left credentials on social issues.

In a time of war, Americans want someone who has real ideas — and someone who has done more than chat with President Clinton over breakfast, or deliver a keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, or win personal injury suits. The more the Democrats attack each other over their inexperience, the more Republicans seem better qualified to fill the Oval Office.