Most Experience or Enough Experience?

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IN 1960, Richard Nixon ran for president against John F. Kennedy on a slogan that had powerful resonance for cold war America: “Experience Counts.” Nixon had been vice president for eight years, a senator for two, and a House member for four. Kennedy had been a senator for eight years and a House member for six, and was also a war hero and the scion of a politically powerful family.

Nixon’s claim to experience, though, were those eight years in the White House — he was dispatched by Eisenhower on missions to dozens of countries, he often noted, and he won acclaim for quick thinking during his “kitchen debate” with Khrushchev in Moscow in 1959. Even if Ike memorably struggled to come up with a real contribution that Nixon had made, the vice president made the experience argument just the same.

Hillary Rodham Clinton was arguably far more involved in White House affairs during her husband’s administration than Nixon was in the 1950s, and she, too, is running on that experience. (“Change is just a word without the strength and experience to make it happen” is one of her taglines.) While she has won respect as a senator of seven years, and has become a student of the military as a member of the Armed Services Committee, her seasoning in the White House is at the core of her campaign argument.

But is the experience argument enough to beat Barack Obama and her other rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination this winter?

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