Dear Barack Obama,
I am writing with advice. Hillary Clinton's campaign surprised everyone yesterday in New Hampshire, and I'm sure your campaign is taking a fresh look at how to respond to the Clinton "comeback."
Here is my advice, short and sweet: You must challenge her claim that you lack "experience."
So far, your campaign has pretty much conceded that point and offered instead the alternative of choice. But you can't simply let her win on experience. You can still emphasize choice, but you need to chip away at the voters who are concerned, above all, about life history, qualifications, resumes, connections.
From what I gather, you do have the experience which equips you for the Presidency.
I don't just mean the story that your wife Michelle tells so movingly on the stump: how you turned down offers from prestigious law firms so that you could become a community organizer in South Side Chicago; how you brought bipartisan coalitions together in the Illinois State Senate and passed important legislation; the impact you have already made in the U.S. Senate, such as your efforts with Dick Lugar to deal with the threat of nuclear warheads in the former Soviet Union. These are important parts of your experience, but they are not the full story.
I would urge you to discuss, with your characteristic eloquence, your experience teaching Constitution Law at the University of Chicago. Tell voters what that experience means for your qualifications to be President at this moment in history.
Under Bush -- in "war on terrorism" era -- we have seen the erosion of some of the legal safeguards in this country: signing statements, invocations of executive privilege, and a reversal of the welcome trend towards transparency in government. We have also seen the Bush administration dismiss many of the long-held (and hard-fought) commitments of international law and human rights law: the advocacy of torture (under another name of course), the outright evasion of the Geneva Conventions, pre-emptive war. We have seen too, with the Patriot Act and numerous executive orders, direct threats to our rights as citizens: the denial of habeas corpus under certain conditions, the wiretapping of our private phone conversations, insistence on access to information on the books we choose to check-out from public libraries.
It will be incumbent on the next President to know the Constitution well, to have grappled with its clauses, its interpretations, its amendments and its "penumbras." It will also be crucial for the next President to know intimately the precedents of the Supreme Court, decisions which have shaped the boundaries of our political and personal lives, from those written in longhand by Justice Marshall all the way to those word-processed by Justice Thomas and his clerks.
I know that Hillary Clinton is a lawyer too. But she did not teach Con Law. I believe that you can make the case that this is perhaps the most important experience the next President will need domestically: that you know our Constitution and its accompanying body of law. You can make the case -- not legalistically but with honest, straightforward and soaring words -- that you will be the greatest defender of our cherished Constitution, and from no less a powerful seat than the one behind the desk in the Oval Office. This cuts through party lines. It is in every American's interest.
Best wishes for Nevada and South Carolina -- and beyond,