Like a little girl whose Chief Executive Barbie is falling from her fingertips into the sea, Hillary Clinton’s presidential ambitions are slipping tragically from her grasp. This may explain her increasingly unhinged behavior, which would be bad enough were she winning. To lose the Democratic nomination this way, however, is particularly pathetic.
Consider her campaign’s reported peddling of a photo of Senator Barack Obama in traditional Somali clothing. Emerging soon before Tuesday’s Texas and Ohio primaries, this was more than a zany picture of an exotically dressed politician, like those of President Bush sporting a Chinese silk jacket at a Shanghai summit or Clinton herself touring Vietnam in a sloped hat. This 2006 photo, snapped during a five-nation African fact-finding mission, could ignite suspicions that Obama is a closet Muslim, a turban-clad terrorist sympathizer, or that other surprises may lurk just beneath his black skin.
Team Clinton could have stamped out any suspicions they were behind this, just as forcefully as Team McCain doused the New York Times’s front-page “news story” asserting inappropriate ties between him and a female lobbyist. McCain’s top staffers and surrogates immediately denounced this gossip on TV and online. McCain personally rejected these allegations at a 9:00 A.M. press conference. By noon, these accusations were extinguished, and the Old Gray Lady’s dwindling reputation was reduced to cinders.
Hillary Rodham Clinton’s team quickly could have refuted the Drudge Report’s claim that they e-mailed this photo while writing: “Wouldn’t we be seeing this on the cover of every magazine if it were HRC?”
Instead, a senior Clinton staffer told Fox News last week: “There are 700 people in our organization. We can’t be sure it didn’t come from us. It is not the intent of the campaign to release this picture to tarnish Senator Obama in any way. But if someone in the campaign thinks that Obama gets treated differently by the media…Well, they’re right.”
For her part, Clinton later said, “I know nothing about it.”
This would be more plausible if this were the Clinton Camp’s first suspected anti-Obama smear. Alas, as Obama’s political guru David Plouffe observed, “her campaign has engaged in the most shameful, offensive fear-mongering we’ve seen from either party in this election. This is part of a disturbing pattern that led her county chairs to resign in Iowa, her campaign chairman to resign in New Hampshire, and it’s exactly the kind of divisive politics that turns away Americans.”
Clinton kept these questions alive last night on CBS’ 60 Minutes. Asked by correspondent Steve Kroft if she would “take Senator Obama at his word that he’s not a Muslim. You don’t believe that he’s a Muslim?” Clinton replied, “No. No, there is nothing to base that on. As far as I know.”
This qualified answer left just a shadow of a doubt about Obama’s true faith. And in that shadow, those who think Obama is a stealth Muslim can lie in wait until pouncing on Election Day tomorrow.
“She knows better than that,” a visibly disgusted Bob Beckel said this morning on Fox News Channel. The veteran Democratic campaign operative added: “That was calculated, scripted, and cheap.”
In contrast, at a February 21 debate, Clinton seemed especially conciliatory toward her rival. “I am honored to be here with Barack Obama,” she said, shaking his hand. “I am absolutely honored.”
Two days later in Cincinnati, she came undone.
“Shame on you, Barack Obama!” Clinton snapped. Like a diesel-powered dental drill, she squealed: “Enough with the speeches, and the big rallies, and then using tactics that are right out of Karl Rove’s playbook.”
Clinton somehow suddenly discovered leaflets that Obama’s campaign has mailed out for weeks in Ohio. She complained that Obama portrayed her as pro-NAFTA, though she now says she would scuttle the pact unless it’s renegotiated.
Obama’s perspective is correct.
“I think everybody is in favor of free and fair trade,” Hillary Clinton said in 1996. “I think NAFTA is proving its worth.”
In her 2003 book, Living History, Clinton warmly calls NAFTA one of her husband’s “legislative victories.”
“I think, on balance, NAFTA has been good for New York and America,” she said in 2004.
Obama finds Clinton’s malleability on NAFTA puzzling.
“She has essentially presented herself as co-president during the Clinton years,” he declared in Lorain, Ohio. “So, the notion that you can selectively pick what you take credit for and then run away from what isn’t politically convenient, that doesn’t make sense.”
Like her competitors, Clinton signed an agreement “to bring finality, predictability and common sense to the nominating calendar” and pledged not to “campaign or participate” in any primary or caucus before February 5, outside Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. Obama respected this deal and even erased his name from Michigan’s ballot.
Clinton now wants Florida’s 210 delegates and Michigan’s 156 to vote at the Democratic convention. Conveniently, she won those two renegade primaries that violated these scheduling rules.
“I signed an agreement not to campaign in Michigan and Florida,” she says today. “It had nothing to do with seating the delegates.”
Clinton strategist and Democratic National Committeeman Harold Ickes favors credentialing these two pro-Clinton delegations, even though he voted to penalize states that flouted the party calendar.
“You don’t change the rules in the middle of the game. Period,” said former Nebraska senator and Clinton supporter Bob Kerrey. “No new vote and no new caucuses either. Just stick to the rules they agreed to.”
House speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) concurred.
“We certainly don’t want to ignore Florida and Michigan, but we can’t ignore the rules which everyone else played by.”
As Robert Novak reports, “Clinton insiders want to spread the message that Obama represents the radical left-wing politics of George McGovern’s 1972 candidacy, which won only one state.” Clinton insider Harold Ickes told journalists last Monday – the New York Daily News noted – “had superdelegates been at the ’72 convention, they may have had a different assessment about George McGovern.”
This disrespect for McGovern rings hypocritical, since Hillary Clinton and her then-boyfriend, Bill, spent much of 1972 campaigning for McGovern in Texas.
“I think that if we can elect her president, she’ll be a greater president even than her brilliant husband,” McGovern said when he endorsed Hillary Clinton in Iowa City last October 6.
Clinton even mocks Obama’s glowing, buoyant rhetoric.
“I could just stand up here and say, ‘Let’s just get everybody together, let’s get unified,’ ” she said February 24 in Providence, R.I. “The sky will open, the light will come down, celestial choirs will be singing, and everyone will know we should do the right thing, and the world will be perfect.”
Polls show Texas and Ohio voters cooling toward Clinton. They clearly see what now is beyond disguise: The big ideas fueling Hillary Clinton’s candidacy are blonde ambition, an unbecoming sense of entitlement, and a thirst for power that all the Gatorade in Gainesville could not quench.
– Deroy Murdock is a New York-based columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution.