One of the trumpet-tongued claims of the Hillary Clinton campaign is that she’s the most qualified candidate to be U.S. president. Ever! It’s quite the boast. In Canadian terms she’s like our old warhorse Jean Chrétien. On becoming prime minister in 1993, he’d spent almost three decades in the political trenches. For the Liberals, he’d done about every job except bellhop and fountain-pen repairman.
We were tired of him already. Like humdrum Hillary, we thought Mr. Chrétien was all about yesterday. Like her today, he was making noises about overhauling the North American free-trade agreement. He didn’t then. She won’t now.
She is benefiting, as did Mr. Chrétien, from a luck invasion, it being the Hindenburging Republicans. Mr. Chrétien faced Kim Campbell, Ms. Clinton faces Donald Trump. Gifts that kept on giving.
Ms. Clinton’s hyperbolic experience boast is somewhat defensible. The Woodstock generation bookworm went on to serve as Secretary of State, as a senator, as President Bill’s sort-of deputy. The problem is that this gives her the look of the ultimate inside-the-beltway candidate, with all the scuzziness implied. There are questions too about the value of experience. How much does it help?
There is, for instance, the case of James Buchanan. In Worst. President. Ever., author Robert Strauss recounts how he had more political experience than any other president, but once in office made a slew of boneheaded decisions that set the stage for the Civil War. In the more modern era, Richard Nixon was greatly seasoned before winning, then sinking the Oval Office. Lyndon Johnson’s decades in Washington didn’t prevent him from being so naive as to napalm his presidency by swallowing the domino theory on Vietnam.
A good thing about Ms. Clinton’s experience is that it extends to Canada. Her knowledge of the country on taking (now exceedingly likely) the Oval Office will surpass most predecessors, including the likes of Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan, Dwight Eisenhower – who twice called Canada a “republic,” – John Kennedy, who thought Dief’s name was pronounced DiefenBAWker, and Calvin Coolidge who, despite being from neighbouring Vermont, wondered if Toronto was near a lake.
It so happens that the president who had the most intimate background knowledge of Canada, Franklin Roosevelt, also was the best president from a bilateral relations point of view. He negotiated critically important defence and economic agreements with William Lyon Mackenzie King.
Ms. Clinton has driven the Alaska Highway, before it was paved. She’s skated Ottawa’s Rideau Canal. Her maternal grandmother, Della Martin, came from a family with French-Canadian roots. She’s vacationed in British Columbia, negotiated bilateral issues as secretary of state and made countless Canadian visits.
She likes Canada so much that, according to what we learned from WikiLeaks last week, she wants much closer ties. “My dream is a hemispheric common market,” she told a private audience in Brazil in 2013. In fact she’s been all over the map on the advisability of free-trade pacts, so much so that she now inhabits a credibility-free zone on the subject.
What we can expect from her in the Oval Office is an executive in the mould of Mr. Chrétien: an astute leader, a stable rationalist of big government beliefs whose wealth of experience is a steadying influence.
Barack Obama has been much admired here. Despite having done little to advance bilateral relations, we’ve appreciated his breadth of enlightenment, his eloquence/elegance, his quest for compromise.
Ms. Clinton, a savvy plodder of little imagination and tortoise-like spontaneity, is no Barack Obama. Where she compares favourably to him is on values and progressive policy outlook. While conservatives here might see her as another Kathleen Wynne, most Canadians will be comfortable with the continuity she provides.
Being liberal, she is not a president who will clash with Justin Trudeau. Her platform, with its emphasis on the middle class, on multiculturalism, environmental protection, job creation via infrastructure, has many parallels. Liberal prime ministers and Democratic presidents tend to work in harmony. Bill Clinton hit it off with Mr. Chrétien. Humdrum Hillary will do the same with kid Trudeau.Report Typo/Error
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