Tracing Hillary Clinton's '35 Years' of Experience When Hillary Clinton makes a campaign appearance, she almost certainly will highlight her experience — 35 years, she says — as one of her qualifications for becoming president. Suzanne Goldenberg, author of a book about Clinton, evaluates those claims.
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Tracing Hillary Clinton's '35 Years' of Experience

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Tracing Hillary Clinton's '35 Years' of Experience

Tracing Hillary Clinton's '35 Years' of Experience

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Michele Norris.

Candidates spent a lot of time toting their credentials on the campaign trail. When Hillary Clinton says she would be ready to lead on day one, she points to her experience. Just how much experience?

(Soundbite of political speech)

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York; Presidential Candidate): What I want to do is take not only my 35 years of experience into the White House but I want - I have fought for more than 35 years for early childhood education - Oh, I don't think based on my 35 years of fighting for what I believe - ending poverty, particularly ending poverty for children has been the central core cause of everything that I've been doing for 35 years - So I'm offering 35 years of experience making change.

NORRIS: Thirty-five years of experience, she says. But Hillary Clinton is a little less specific about what she was doing in all those years before she went to the Senate in 2001.

To help fill up that resume, we called Suzanne Goldenberg. She's author of the book "Madam President: Is America Ready to Send Hillary Clinton to the White House?" I asked Susan Goldenberg to take us back to the beginning of those 35 years of experience to Clinton's days at Yale Law School.

Ms. SUZANNE GOLDENBERG (Correspondent, The Guardian; Author, "Madam President: Is America Ready to Send Hillary Clinton to the White House?"): She actually had a very early interest in children's rights. That's interesting because that was the time when a lot of women were running away from anything to do with children. But Hillary Clinton began taking extra courses in that field.

NORRIS: And she graduated Yale Law School in 1973. She went to work on Capitol Hill in 1974?

Ms. GOLDENBERG: That's right. But in between, she went to work for the Children's Defense Fund and I think here, that's just sort of crucial period because she did work exclusively on children's issues in that time, specifically trying to get kids who were excluded from the public education system into schools.

NORRIS: And then when she went to the Hill, she worked for the House Judiciary Committee.

Ms. GOLDENBERG: That was a really prestigious appointment. She was part of the team that was helping to prepare the case against Richard Nixon.

NORRIS: So in the mid-70s, she moved to Arkansas?

Ms. GOLDENBERG: That's right. She moved to join Bill Clinton when he was fighting his first campaign, which he lost. But she stayed on at Fayetteville and got a job teaching law at the university in Arkansas.

NORRIS: She was the first female partner at the Rose Law Firm. What kind of work did she do there?

Ms. GOLDENBERG: Well, the Rose Law Firm was Arkansas' biggest law firm. It represented some of the biggest businesses in Arkansas, like Wal-Mart, like Tyson Foods, and she represented their corporate clients.

NORRIS: Give me an example of the kind of cases she worked on.

Ms. GOLDENBERG: Well, one of her first cases, I think, was probably as embarrassing as it gets. She had to defend a food manufacturer in a suit that was brought by a man who opened up a can of pork and beans that he had bought and he found the hindquarters of a rat inside. So she had to go to court and fight that case.

NORRIS: How long did she work for the Rose Law Firm and did she maintain that job while she was the first lady of Arkansas?

Ms. GOLDENBERG: Hillary Clinton's longest job anywhere has, was for the Rose Law Firm. I mean, she joined in 1977, she did take breaks to campaign full time for Bill Clinton when he ran office and she took time off when Chelsea was born. But otherwise, she stayed at the Rose Law Firm until she left Arkansas to go to the White House.

NORRIS: And at the White House?

Ms. GOLDENBERG: Well at the White House as we've all seen, you know her first foray into policy, the healthcare reform effort ended badly. I mean, it was a catastrophe, it was a failure and the health reform stalled. Hillary Clinton then retreated from the policy arena, at least from the arena of big ideas and sweeping changes and she took on a much more traditional first lady role. Later on, she came out of her shell and began to push on issues of international development especially on women's issues.

NORRIS: You know, when you describe this more traditional first lady role, that's not the way she describes it on the campaign trail. She describes someone who is very active in public policy, very active in foreign policy.

Ms. GOLDENBERG: Well, I mean, she was active in foreign policy bid. I mean, she also wrote a book about White House pets. She did a balancing act there because she felt that she had gone out on a limb and gone too far in the public policy arena when she was first lady and that she had been punished for it by the failure of the healthcare reform. So she really did take a backseat for a period of time and then slowly began to try and work on those issues again.

NORRIS: Now overall, the repetition of that statement that we heard, 35 years of experience, inference there is that she has decades of public policy experience. When she says this over and over again, is she making a fair or an accurate claim?

Ms. GOLDENBERG: It's hard to see really how it adds up especially if you listen back to that claim about at being the central core of her work for 35 years because in fact, her full-time job for a lot of those years in Arkansas was working for a corporate law firm.

NORRIS: How does that strike you?

Ms. GOLDENBERG: Well, you have to remember that every candidate on the campaign trail is going to embellish the record. I mean, John Edwards is 54 years old and we hear him talking about 54 years of working for little people and for poor people. So Hillary Clinton does it as well. Does she do it more than other people? Maybe slightly because she does leave, you know, that corporate law work off her resume. But I think this is what politicians do. They sort of play up the good parts of their resume and play down the bit, say it rather people forgot about.

NORRIS: Susan Goldenberg, thanks so much for talking to us.

Ms. GOLDENBERG: Thank you.

NORRIS: Suzanne Goldenberg is a U.S. correspondent for The Guardian newspaper. She's also author of a book called "Madam President: Is America Ready to Send Hillary Clinton to the White House?"

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