The following is an excerpt from OpinionJournal’s “Best of the Web” at The Wall Street Journal written by the editor, James Taranto.
An April 7 email from Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager Robby Mook encouraged recipients to:
Show how proud you are to support the most qualified candidate in the history of our country.
…It turns out Clinton’s not just qualified, or more qualified than opponent Bernie Sanders, or even very, extremely, fully or well qualified. She’s “the most qualified candidate in the history of our country”!
C’mon, that’s the kind of ludicrous boast Donald Trump would make. Mrs. Clinton served as a U.S. senator and secretary of state. By our count 15 past presidents, from John Adams to George H.W. Bush, also had prior service both in Congress (including the Continental Congress) and a high-level administration position (vice president or cabinet secretary).
Add Washington, Grant and Eisenhower—each a key general in one of America’s most important wars—and you have 18 presidents who were at least as qualified on taking office as Mrs. Clinton is now. And this method of assessing qualifications gives no points for service in state government, so that it leaves out 11 presidents who’d served as governor, including both Roosevelts, Reagan—and Bill Clinton.
Remember, Mrs. Clinton’s campaign doesn’t claim only that she would be the most qualified president but that she is the most qualified candidate in history. Eat your hearts out, Henry Clay, Thomas Dewey, Bobby Kennedy, Hubert Humphrey, Al Gore—that list, too, could go on.
Mook is far from alone in employing this preposterous superlative. Barbara Boxer, the junior senator from California, tweeted Wednesday: “Bernie’s attack on @HillaryClinton tonight was beneath him. She is the most qualified person to ever run for POTUS [President of the U.S.].”
The Huffington Post’s Amanda Terkel observes: “When talking to women rooting for Hillary Clinton, one reason comes up over and over again about why they stick by her: She is, simply, the most qualified person to be president.” That version of the claim is at least plausible, since it limits the comparison to the five candidates currently running and does not assert that Mrs. Clinton is more qualified than Washington, FDR, et al.
The White House, meanwhile, yesterday declared Mrs. Clinton qualified, but its appraisal of her qualifications was far from unqualified, as the Hill reports:
“The president has said that Secretary Clinton comes into this race with more experience than any other non-vice president in recent campaign history,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz told reporters aboard Air Force One.
Excluding also incumbent presidents seeking re-election (and leaving out Dan Quayle’s brief pursuit of the 2000 Republican nomination), that would make her the fourth most qualified candidate of the past 35 years. Though she’d drop to No. 5 if Joe Biden had run this year.
Perhaps the White House’s faint praise was payback for Mrs. Clinton’s having raised questions about the current president’s qualifications. Clinton booster Neera Tanden of the Center for American Progress tweeted Thursday: “I just want to say that during 2008, Hillary never said Obama was not qualified to be President. #newlow.”
We suppose, as with Sanders, Mrs. Clinton never said it about Obama in so many words. But let’s review what she and her campaign did say:
“I think that I have a lifetime of experience that I will bring to the White House,” the Puffington Host quoted her in March of that year. “I know Senator [John] McCain has a lifetime of experience [to bring] to the White House. And Senator Obama has a speech he gave in 2002.” (Yesterday the Clinton campaign issued a list of 23 putative achievements. No. 4 was a speech she gave in 1995.)
Also in March 2008, the Chicago Tribune reported that “the former first lady’s chief spokesman Howard Wolfson declared Monday that [Mrs.] Clinton does not consider Obama qualified to be vice president”—though Wolfson hedged, adding that she “would not ‘rule out’ Obama as a potential vice president in the event he is somehow able to prove he meets the test to be commander-in-chief.”
The preceding month, the Clinton campaign released an ad called “Children.” Here’s the transcript, from the New York Times:
It’s 3 a.m. and your children are safe and asleep. But there’s a phone in the White House and it’s ringing.
Something’s happening in the world. Your vote will decide who answers that call, whether it’s someone who already knows the world’s leaders, knows the military—someone tested and ready to lead in a dangerous world.
It’s 3 a.m. and your children are safe and asleep. Who do you want answering the phone?
The ad didn’t mention Obama by name, but the message was clear to his campaign:
David Plouffe, the campaign manager for Mr. Obama, dismissed the ad as a “shopworn tactic.” In a conference call with reporters this morning, he used the commercial as an opportunity to highlight Mrs. Clinton’s original support of the Iraq war.
“Senator Clinton had her red phone moment. She had it in 2002,” Mr. Plouffe said. “It was on the Iraq war—she and John McCain and George [W.] Bush all gave the wrong answer.”
Sanders now makes the same argument: “I don’t think you are qualified if you have voted for the disastrous war in Iraq,” he said Wednesday.
And in a March 2007 memo, reported by the Atlantic in August 2008, Mrs. Clinton’s chief strategist, Mark Penn, wrote: “I cannot imagine America electing a president during a time of war who is not at his center fundamentally American in his thinking and in his values.” The magazine added that “Penn proposed targeting Obama’s ‘lack of American roots.’ ”
Whatever one may think of the specifics of these arguments, it was reasonable to claim that Sen. Clinton was more qualified than Sen. Obama in 2008. But that’s rather a moot point in 2016—and a counterproductive one for Mrs. Clinton’s supporters to be making at a time when Obama is president and Mrs. Clinton is dependent on his support.
In another echo of 2008, Bill Clinton has been causing problems by speaking on his wife’s behalf. Yesterday in Philadelphia, as Slate’s Michelle Goldberg notes, the former president got into an argument with Black Lives Matter hecklers who challenged him on his welfare and crime policies:
At a time when Hillary Clinton is dependent on black voters and campaigning with mothers who’ve lost sons to police violence, Bill Clinton yoked her to his own discredited policies. He reminded everyone that, in defense of his [crime] bill, she’d once spoken about underage “superpredators,” language she has since apologized for. Then, Bill Clinton aped the maddening right-wing tendency to derail conversations about criminal justice abuses by invoking black-on-black crime. He might as well have said, “All lives matter!”
Because if there’s one thing the Democratic Party stands for, it is the proposition that not all lives matter. Goldberg speculates that Mr. Clinton wants Mrs. Clinton to lose:
It is somehow only when he is working on his wife’s behalf that he veers into sabotage. What is needed here is probably a shrink, not a neurologist. Either he doesn’t want her to overtake him, or he doesn’t want her to repudiate him. Regardless, Hillary should shut him down. She can’t divorce him, but she can fire him.
One reason many observers (including this columnist) are skeptical of Mrs. Clinton’s accomplishments is the nepotism discount. In particular, had she not been the wife of the president, she would not have been able to establish New York residency in 1999, muscle aside politicians like Rep. Nita Lowey, and get elected senator from the state in 2000. As National Review’s Kevin Williamson puts it:
Mrs. Clinton is a lifelong political grifter who poses as a feminist champion while riding on the coattails of her husband, an old-fashioned…patriarchal chauvinist who just happens to have been the most gifted politician of his generation before his decline to his current diminished state.
But Goldberg goes a step further. According to her, Mrs. Clinton can’t even lose without her husband’s help.
For more “Best of the Web” from The Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto click here.