A Clinton Counter Memo: "Strength And Experience"

To: Interested Parties

From: The Clinton Campaign

RE: Strength & Experience

There was an important moment in last night’s debate where Hillary Clinton distinguished herself and showed that she has the strength and experience to be the next President of the United States.

The two buzzwords: strength and experience. Again, note the forward lean /
in the direction
of the general

Last night, a YouTube questioner asked: “In 1982, Anwar Sadat traveled to Israel, a trip that resulted in a peace agreement that has lasted ever since. In the spirit of that type of bold leadership, would you be willing to meet separately, without precondition, during the first year of your administration, in Washington or anywhere else, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea, in order to bridge the gap that divides our countries?”

In response Barack Obama said: “I would. And the reason is this, that the notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them -- which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration – is ridiculous.” [CNN Debate, 7/24/07]

Immediately following the debate, Obama’s top advisers sought to clarify their candidate’s comments. David Axelrod claimed Obama didn’t mean any such meetings would actually take place. “He said that he would be willing to talk,” Axelrod explained. “And what he meant was, as a government, he’d be willing and eager to initiate those kinds of talks, just as during the Cold War there were low-level discussions and mid-level discussions between us and the Soviet Union and so on. So he was not promising summits with all of those leaders.” [National Review, 7/24/07 ]

Never good to have an adviser say "what he meant was."

In response to the same question, Hillary Clinton said: “Well, I will not promise to meet with the leaders of these countries during my first year. I will promise a very vigorous diplomatic effort because I think it is not that you promise a meeting at that high a level before you know what the intentions are. I don't want to be used for propaganda purposes. I don't want to make a situation even worse. But I certainly agree that we need to get back to diplomacy, which has been turned into a bad word by this administration. And I will purse very vigorous diplomacy.

“And I will use a lot of high-level presidential envoys to test the waters, to feel the way. But certainly, we're not going to just have our president meet with Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez and, you know, the president of North Korea, Iran and Syria until we know better what the way forward would be. [CNN Debate, 7/24/07]

There is a clear difference between the two approaches these candidates are taking: Senator Obama has committed to presidential-level meetings with some of the world's worst dictators without precondition during his first year in office. Senator Clinton is committed to vigorous diplomacy but understands that it is a mistake to commit the power and prestige of America’s presidency years ahead of time by making such a blanket commitment.

If David Axelrod speaks for Obama (and I assume he does), then Obama and Hillary seem to want the same thing. But Obama himself couldn't articulate the position as well as his adviser did, and the Clinton campaign eagerly tries to take the advantage. This is a political problem: the candidate needs to say what he means.

Hillary’s performance last night underscored why she has the strength and experience to be our next President and was consistent with what she has done in the debates thus far, going back to the first one last April when she stood out with the response she gave when the candidates were asked how they would react to a terrorist attack.

Hearkening back to the first Dem debate (also in South Carolina) where Clinton answered the terrorist scenario question crisply and Obama emphasized recovery and response.

Answering the commander-in-chief question is the threshold for any presidential candidate because the essence of being president is knowing what to do when the unexpected happens. It’s knowing how to deal with rogue states that threaten America’s safety. It’s knowing how to end the war in a safe and responsible way.

Hillary Clinton is proving that she has the strength and experience to be President and to deliver the change Americans want.