Let me ask you something: What, in your opinion, are the qualifications for serving as president?
A couple of weeks ago, a reader called to challenge me about my recent "Waiting for Hillary" column - in particular, my insistence that Hillary Clinton "is certainly qualified" for the presidency.
While he often agrees with my columns, the reader said, that one left him baffled. Would I, he urged, tell him specifically what I see that makes her qualified?
He wasn't the only reader who asked me that question. And the issue popped up on the second Republican debate, with Carly Fiorina's cutesy, much-quoted "If you want to stump a Democrat, ask them to name an accomplishment of Hillary Clinton."
Partisan politics aside, it's a topic worth thinking about. What do we think are the qualifications for president? And does Clinton have them? You can do your own research about Clinton, but I'll give you my thoughts.
Let me say first that I'm not at all enthusiastic about Clinton. I wish someone better were running. As I mentioned in that September 9 column, I'm becoming convinced that she can't be elected - and that if she is, she'll run into the same Republican obstruction in Congress that has plagued Obama. That's not good for anybody.
I'm also not happy about some of her positions on important issues, particularly her militaristic tendency.
But I do think she's qualified. She's smart, and she's well educated. She has had extensive, significant experience in a variety of public-policy areas - in Arkansas government, in the Clinton White House, in the US Senate, and in the State Department. She knows people, in Congress and in foreign affairs, and they know her. She has management experience.
She's a longtime advocate on issues affecting women and children. Her early career included working for the Children's Defense Fund, serving on the staff of the committee that advised the House Judiciary Committee during the Watergate investigation, and teaching law and running legal clinics for the poor in Arkansas.
During Bill Clinton's several terms as governor of Arkansas, she continued her efforts related to poverty and also chaired the state's Educational Standards Committee. When he became president, she was an exceptionally active First Lady, chairing his Task Force on National Health Care Reform, advocating on health care and poverty issues, helping create the Office on Violence Against Women in the Department of Justice, and traveling around the world, advocating for women's rights.
As a US Senator, she may not have had her name on groundbreaking legislation, but she was active and hardworking - respected, if I'm remembering correctly, by Republicans and Democrats. And, of course, she was Obama's Secretary of State.
You can find negatives in that career, obviously. She has to bear heavy responsibility for the failure of the Clinton health-care reform. And while Republicans are obsessing over Benghazi, some Democrats criticize her tenure at State, too.
Finer minds than mine will have to pass judgment on the Benghazi tragedy. But on the whole, I agree with the assessment of a 2013 Foreign Affairs article, which called her "a highly competent secretary of state, but not a great one." And, by the way, one of her Republican predecessors, Henry Kissinger, went further, saying Clinton "ran the State Department in the most effective way that I've ever seen."
This is a complicated country facing enormous challenges in a very complicated world. The Republican candidates include not only several people with dubious qualifications but also some whose opinions on science, foreign policy, health care, and the constitution are, frankly, frightening. And in my humble opinion, any of them would take us down a very destructive path.
Having a Democrat succeed Barack Obama, then, is critical. I hope the Democrats don't choose Hillary Clinton as their candidate, but her qualifications aren't the reason for my concern. Not every president is Abraham Lincoln.