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Hillary Clinton, Overqualified

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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No one knows how Hillary Clinton will do as president, if she gets the chance. 

But we do know she is probably the best qualified presidential candidate ever, at least when it comes to checking off relevant boxes. This comes up today because a writer for the Weekly Standard claimed she would be an “affirmative-action” president (an argument easily knocked down by Jonathan Chait at New York).  

Let's go through her resume:

She has been a senator (for longer than Barack Obama was and longer than Rand Paul or Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio will have been in 2016). Remember, she also has experience on the House side, as a staff member of the Judiciary Committee during Watergate.

As for the executive branch, she was in the cabinet, in the front-line job as secretary of state. It's rare among modern presidents to have any such experience. She has also worked in the White House, as a top adviser to her husband when he was president.

While Clinton never served as a governor or state legislator, she had a formal role in planning education reforms in Arkansas when her husband was governor and helped sell them to the legislature. 

More? She was involved with the Children’s Defense Fund at the state and national level for years, eventually becoming national chairwoman for several years. So check off the “interest groups” box.

She had a full career as a lawyer -- as a partner in the Rose Law Firm, which, among other things, qualifies as a small business. No, she wasn't an executive at a big company anywhere, but she has been on the boards of Wal-Mart and other corporations. 

As far as I know, she has no experience in local government. She hasn't been a judge or worked directly for the federal judiciary, although she has been around the courts enough. She hasn't had a formal position in the Democratic Party (unless I missed that), but she has been an important party actor for years.

All things being equal,  I’d rather have a president who is familiar with the White House, the executive branch, both chambers of Congress, state government, interest groups and various private-sector companies.

Of course, things are rarely equal. People can debate how well she performed in all these jobs and positions, and take issue with her policies and views. The positive aspects of her resume alone won't likely be a deciding factor for voters in the Democratic primaries, let alone in a general election, where party is (quite properly) far more important. 

Still, it isn't hard in presidential history to find huge failures stemming at least partly from inexperience, whether it was Bill Clinton’s awful transition or George W. Bush's deference to people in his administration who manipulated him, or Jimmy Carter’s inability to work with anyone in the federal government. Hillary Clinton, if she is elected, may not avoid making some of these mistakes, but no one will be able to blame them on a lack of experience.

  1. In having what some political scientists call "presidential branch" experience, she is similar to vice presidents, who when they take on substantive roles do so as advisers to the president, rather than within an executive-branch department or agency. 

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Katy Roberts at kroberts29@bloomberg.net