Hillary Clinton As First Lady: Qualifying Experience


Hillary Clinton stands by her husband during her days as first lady. (Chuck Kennedy /MCT)

Published: April 17, 2008

Would you let the spouse of your surgeon operate on you? There are very few cases in which the answer approaches the affirmative. However, when related to the first lady and the president, respectively, many people are reluctant to draw the same conclusion. According to most recent polls, Sen. Hillary Clinton is perceived by likely Democratic voters to be stronger on the issue of “experience” than rival Sen. Barak Obama, despite much evidence to the contrary.

On March 19, the federal archivists finally released 11,000 carefully redacted pages of Hillary’s schedule as first lady. The documents disclose that Hillary as restricted to playing the traditional role of first lady on her trips to more than 80 countries. There is little evidence that her years as first lady have given her the necessary experience to handle foreign policy and national security issues as president. During Bill’s two terms, Hillary did not hold a security clearance, was not able to attend meetings of the National Security Council and was never given a copy of the president’s daily intelligence briefing. Nonetheless, Hillary continues to make the argument that her years as first lady have provided her with sufficient experience to be commander in chief.

The schedules reveal otherwise. During the Clintons’ trip to Bosnia in March 1996, Hillary has a 10-minute meeting with Bosnia’s president but spends the rest of the trip greeting troops, watching Sinbad and Sheryl Crow perform and making appearances to the press. On a January 1994 trip to Russia, Hillary’s schedule concentrates on events with other political wives. She sits in on a birthing class at a hospital, tours a cathedral and joins other prominent women for a lunch of bilinis with caviar and salmon.

To Hillary’s credit, the documents also record her unwavering pursuit of health care reform; she held a meeting on the health care initiative three days after Bill’s inauguration and worked tirelessly to push through the reforms, which ultimately failed.

More interesting, however, is Hillary’s early support of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) on multiple occasions, including her promotion of its passage at a closed meeting in November 1993 with 120 participants. NAFTA, which links trade between the U.S., Canada and Mexico, is considered to be one of Bill’s major accomplishments. However, many Americans now reproach NAFTA for thousands of U.S. jobs lost in manufacturing. On the democratic trail, both Obama and Hillary blame the pact for job losses and make promises to renegotiate the agreement.

Looking back, it is clear why Hillary did not want her schedule as first lady to be released. The documents show that she spent her days in the White House making many political appearances, working tirelessly to pass health care reform and shedding light on women’s rights issues across the world. They also reveal that Hillary played the traditional role of first lady and little more. Is it fair for Hillary to include her time as first lady as part of her “35 years of experience?” Yes. However, her “experience” during this period should not be exaggerated or overstated. Hillary did an excellent job as first lady, but her responsibilities and duties were not comparable to those of the commander in chief.