Patrick Healy's article in the New York Times today has gotten much attention. It attempts to dive into the question that's been looming over Hillary Clinton's candidacy: Do the eight years Clinton served as first lady count as experience? Steve Benen's take is summed up here:

If you're sympathetic to Clinton, her eight years in the White House offer her the kind of experience and insights that few presidential candidates can even hope to match. If you're unsympathetic, Clinton shouldn't count her eight years in a ceremonial position in which she made practically no substantive decisions relating to foreign policy or national security, did not receive intelligence briefings, and did not, as some former officials put it, "feel or process the weight of responsibility."

But after reading the article, there was something left unsaid: Hillary Clinton has great experience for a woman. There are few women as qualified as Hillary Clinton for a candidacy. There's a smattering of female governors, a mere 16 female senators (two of whom were elected in 2006 midterm elections), and a handful of high-ranking and high-profile secretaries. There just aren't a lot of "qualified" women to pull candidates from. And, as Hendrik Hertzberg said a while back, most women tend to sail into office on the coattails of their deceased or retired husbands.

Now, whether the first ladyship should be considered real experience is debatable. It's true that it has been traditionally a ceremonial role. She never had security clearance to be in on high-level meetings on foreign policy or even an official position for passing legislation. But it's also true that Clinton pushed the limits of what being a first lady meant for the first time since Eleanor Roosevelt. Since then, the first ladyship has reverted back to a primarily ceremonial and charity role. I'm not saying that Clinton's experience as a first lady qualifies her to be a presidential candidate -- there are plenty of legitimate reasons to pick on Clinton -- but it does beg the question: If women are barely represented in high-level offices, how are they supposed to "qualify" themselves for a presidential run?

-- Kay Steiger

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