Politics & Policy


Hillary's bad man problem.

Hillary must have thrown a lamp at somebody when she got the news that Barack Obama had beaten her to the gate with his announcement of the formation of his presidential exploratory committee. She was supposed to be able to remain aloof from the presidential race, with her campaign coffers swelling till no other candidate dared challenge her, then she’d demurely let herself be persuaded to run. But that was spoiled. She had to trot out her own announcement before the other guy could push her aside.

#ad#As with all things Clintonian, Hillary’s Internet announcement of her exploratory committee was slick. As they sometimes say, you could see every penny of the many, many pennies that were spent. It was as smoothly done as a promo for an afternoon TV chat show, which, in a way, it was. Clinton’s repetitive injunction to join her in a national discussion about, well, herself is an invitation to see a show. It’s reminiscent of the old joke about the vain actor on a date. After hours blathering about his past glorious triumphs and his plans for future wonderful performances, he says, “Well, that’s enough about me. What do you think of me?”

The “listening tour” device worked well for Clinton when she first ran for the Senate. She traversed New York State, asking questions and nodding much like the queen of England does when she tours a new widget factory or a modernized chicken hatchery in Britain. The locals are delighted to be noticed by a celebrity and they never ask her any questions about how to devise a better widget or how to encourage more eggs out of the average hen. With the queen, this is a consequence of polite patriotism. The queen isn’t expected to know those things and it would be rude to ask and expose her ignorance. With Hillary, it’s because she just doesn’t answer questions. One of the most remarkable things about her political career is the way she rarely takes anything but puff questions. Those chat sessions her staff stages seem spontaneous, but the fact is that ordinary audiences, especially when they’re composed of supporters, ask ordinary, easily expected questions that rarely strain the abilities of the ordinary politician. The mainstream media, who are supposed to ask her tougher questions and to challenge her answers, don’t do so for reasons similar to those motivating those patriotic Brits. The media, which favors her politics, don’t want to rudely reveal her inadequacies. With this in mind, it’s easy to see how Hillary’s invitation to “Let the conversation begin!” was supposed to be the first step in her march to the presidency. If anyone ever asked a hard question, she could deftly counter with “I’m here to listen, today.” She’d omit the rest of her thought: “I’ll get back to you later after a round of focus groups and polling tells me what America wants to hear.” Unfortunately for her, this evasive strategy has come up against something that can’t be easily evaded, Barack Obama.

Obama came to political prominence through a scandal. Back in 2004, when he was running for a Senate seat representing Illinois, his opponent was Jack Ryan, who had been married to actress Jeri Ryan, best remembered as the Borgette “Seven of Nine” on Star Trek: Voyager. The Ryans’ marriage, which produced a child, ended in divorce. In documents related to a visitation dispute, Jeri Ryan claimed her husband had taken her to sex clubs, where couples indulged in public sex acts. She said Jack Ryan had asked her to have sex with him in one of these establishments but she had refused. Jack Ryan denied this. Eventually, the visitation argument was resolved and the divorced couple now claims to have become the best of exes. The documents were sealed but the media, somehow, found out about the lurid charges. Chicago media organizations sued in Los Angeles to have the documents released so they could publish what had been leaked to them without criminal consequences. They argued that the public interest outweighed the privacy of the Ryans, who wanted to spare their son the ugly details of their dispute. The California court sided with the media organizations, the charges became national news, and Ryan dropped out of the race. With little time to find an alternative Republican candidate, Alan Keyes stepped in as his replacement. While a popular conservative speaker, he is a feisty, shoot-from-the-lip guy, who had lost two earlier senatorial races and now lost his third, getting just 27 percent of the vote. It was a resounding victory for Obama and the stink of a victory through leaked divorce documents faded fast.

At the 2004 Democratic Convention, in what some saw as a cynical gesture to showcase the party’s diversity, Obama was given the podium for the keynote address. His speech went over well and he was lauded as a rising star in the Democrat firmament. He had an interesting backstory with a Kenyan father and a Kansan mother and a childhood in Jakarta. He’s young and good looking — a tabloid photo of him in swimming trunks made more heads turn then the infamous David Duchovny Speedo shot — but he’s also a family man with cute anecdotes about how his children don’t think Dad is cool. Like all the big time politicians, he has a bestselling book, The Audacity of Hope, that’s as full of liberal platitudes as It Takes a Village. Perhaps Obama got the presidential bug when pundits started comparing him to Jack Kennedy. Wherever he got the fever, his announcement of his presidential exploratory committee and the endorsement by billionaire George Soros, the anti-capitalist capitalist and bankroller of Liberalism everywhere, were a kick in the pant suit for Hillary. If the Obama bandwagon got rolling and enough donkeys put on harness to pull it, she could face an embarrassingly difficult run for her party’s presidential nomination. For, while the polls show Hillary with a huge lead, Obama, with his thin record, is a fresh candidate, untainted by Lewinsky jokes, cattle future thievery, fumbled terror policies, and all the other debris of her years as “ co-president.” He’s a blank slate on which Democrats can write any fantasy of new Camelots their hearts can dream.

Bill’s relatively blank slate was a great advantage but it took a lot of ruthless politicking to exploit it. That’s where Hillary came in. Bill had the ready, calculating streak that earned him the nickname “Slick Willie,” but she had the drive to push him to high office. Bill would acquire legions of devoted, crafty acolytes eager to be the means to his end, but Hillary would always be the one who kept Bill on point and would defend him even in his most ridiculous moments of scandal. She was the one who invoked the “vast right wing conspiracy,” that diverted responsibility from Bill to a cabal of conservatives and conservative media outlets. While widely mocked as blind, paranoid drivel, invalidated by her husband’s reckless behavior, it was a persuasive argument to millions and may well become the version of history that our grandkids read in school.

Now, in her own service, Hillary is driven to defeat Obama. The obvious charge against him is his inexperience but the argument that his two years of U.S. senatorial service and seven years of state senatorial service are inferior to her eight years in the U.S. Senate doesn’t reach deep into Democrat souls. Can operatives for Hillary find some scandal in Obama’s past that will, like Jack Ryan’s custody documents, destroy his candidacy? It doesn’t seem likely. A more probable argument, but one that will have to be delicately made, is that an Afro-American candidate with too liberal views can’t be elected president. With no small irony, a weapon in this effort may be the “vast right wing conspiracy.” Hillary supporters have been suspected of slipping anti-Obama dirt to conservative media outlets. First, there was the stir over his middle name, “Hussein.” Then, there was the charge that Obama had been educated in an Indonesian madrassa by Muslim teachers. Did this mean he’s a secret Muslim? And there’s his pro-abortion record. Did he really vote to deny medical care to infants who survive attempted abortions? He’s spoken against the war in Iraq. Will he vote to send them home in defeat? If Hillary can brand Obama as too liberal, the pragmatists in her party will choose her. Using her erstwhile conservative enemies to publicize Obama’s flaws would allow her to hide her hand and avoid the ire of Obama supporters in the Democrat Party. Again ironically, the “vast right wing conspiracy” may not go baying off after Obama as Hillary hopes. The VRWC isn’t as dumb as she thinks and won’t be eager to do her dirty work. Hillary is also so disliked by conservatives that, in a Hillary versus Obama slugfest, they’re apt to root for him over her. And, the dirt that’s been unearthed so far about Obama is pretty light stuff compared to the mountains of muck that accompany Hillary and her hubby.

Many Democrats prefer to see Obama as vice president to Hillary’s president. That would garner black support for the ticket and Obama’s antiwar views would placate antiwar radicals who blame Hillary for her vote for the Iraq war. Some believe Clinton-Obama ‘08 is Obama’s goal. If Hillary wins with him on the ticket, a term or two as vice president would allow him to become the experienced candidate to replace her after she leaves the White House. If Hillary loses, Obama would be a viable candidate the next time round with his party in his debt for carrying their banner. Hillary, however, spent many years in the shadow of a charismatic man. Although she was Bill’s co-president, it’s doubtful she’ll want to have a co-president of her own, certainly not one who might upstage her. Imagine how she’d feel if Vice President Obama was more popular than she. It’d be pleasanter for her to run with a nonentity in a suit, someone who could do a good Al Gore impression.

Edward Morrow is the author and illustrator of numerous books, including The Halloween Handbook.

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