Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Best qualified presidential candidate ever?

President Obama said it during the Hillary Clinton campaign stop in Charlotte Tuesday. He said Hillary Clinton is the best qualified person ever to run for president. That sort of thing has been claimed before with surprisingly little contradiction -- No one has ever run for president, they've claimed, with more experience than Hillary Clinton.

I beg to differ, not to dispute that HRC has experience or that she is qualified for the presidency, at least in terms of experience. But the most qualified ever? Really?

A few candidates from the not-too-distant past had experiences that could match or surpass the former one-term senator and secretary of state. Franklin Roosevelt had been governor of a large state (New York) and had served as secretary of the Navy. Lyndon Johnson had served in the House and the Senate, had been on congressional staff, and had been perhaps the most effective majority leader of the Senate in the upper chamber's history. He also served nearly four years as vice president. George H.W. Bush had been a member of Congress, ambassador to China, director of the CIA and vice president for two terms. Dwight D. Eisenhower was light on Washington experience, but he had successfully managed the largest, most complex and probably most difficult military alliance in history. Richard Nixon had been a member of the House and the Senate and held key congressional leadership posts, and he served two terms as vice president. (All of which goes to prove that experience isn't everything.)

Some presidents' successful terms help prove that experience isn't everything. Harry Truman had little to recommend him in 1945, when he inherited the presidency after FDR's sudden death. He had been a machine politician from Missouri with a slim record of congressional accomplishments. He had served only a few months as vice president and had been so out of the loop that he didn't even know about the atomic bomb. He was not a college graduate. But many historians now consider Truman one of our best presidents.

And then there's Abraham Lincoln, a one-term congressman and failed candidate for Senate. He was elected president only because of a catastrophic split in the Democratic Party and was so detested by many of his countrymen that they withdrew from the Union before he was even inaugurated. His strategy to keep the country united failed and resulted in a tragic, four-year war that killed 600,000 or more. He second-guessed his generals and frequently fired them. He was expected to lose his 1864 re-election bid (against a general he had fired) and was saved only by a change in battlefield success. Despite all the failures and lack of solid experience, Lincoln is considered one of the two or three best presidents in history.

Let's grant Hillary Clinton the fact that she has experience as a cabinet secretary, a senator and as first lady (which should count for something). But is she the "most experienced ever"? Not by a long shot.

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