Hillary vs. McCain in '08: Part 1
Maybe there won't be a Part 2 of this post, and thus that headline could be misleading, but you can't adequately bring up Hillary Clinton and John McCain in a single blog item. Connie Bruck's New Yorker profile of McCain (May 30 issue) makes the case that he's running for president pretty much full time. Bruck is a dogged reporter; McCain's guard is so low, he lets her follow him into a casino, where he indulges an appetite for gambling. He likes the dice.
And today we have a story in The Post about the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, an excerpt, of sorts, from my colleague John Harris's new book, "The Survivor: Bill Clinton in the White House." Harris opens with a great anecdote, circa 2000, during Hillary's Senate campaign, in which Bubba says to Hillary, "Women want to know why you stayed with me," and Hillary answers, "Yes, I've been wondering that myself." The president comes up with an explanation about how she's "a sticker," but what's really revealing is that they're having this discussion while examining poll results. Some people work out their problems with a marriage counselor; others work them out over a spreadsheet from Gallup.
But this paragraph really jumps out of the Harris story this morning:
In 1993, White House aide Rahm Emanuel -- now a Democratic House member from Illinois -- planned an event inviting prominent Republicans to a White House dinner as a way of garnering support for the North American Free Trade Agreement. He assumed he would win praise for a clever tactical maneuver. Instead, the first lady was infuriated. "What are you doing inviting these people in my home?" she said, according to people familiar with the episode. Nearly sobbing with anger, she told him: "These people are our enemies. They are trying to destroy us."
Maybe Senator Clinton, like McCain, has learned to forgive her enemies, and Harris's story seems to suggest that this has been a major element of her senatorial strategy -- find allies across the aisle on key issues, try to moderate her image, make her appear in touch with mainstream values rather than being a feminist-socialist power-grabber. But her own memoir, as I recall, was full of us-against-them; she seemed to remain persuaded that she and her husband were victims of a vast right-wing conspiracy (VRWC). There was, to be sure, a sizable confederation of foam-mouthed Clinton haters, and that confederation still exists, weirdly obsessed with Mrs. Clinton (these folks think the Clintons are not only bad people but truly monstrous; they routinely will stage a barbecue or a fish fry for the sole purpose of hating Hillary). But the haters weren't the ultimate source of the Clintons's problems. [Not gonna rehash all that right now -- lest we drift back into 1998, the Lost Year.]
McCain and Mrs. Clinton would have to overcome a lot to become president. McCain would face a primary battle from his right -- Gingrich and Frist are already running. The dirty tricksters would once again circulate the rumor that he went crazy during his Vietnam captivity. McCain's temperament would become an issue; voters will be told that, at any moment, his head might explode. It'll be South Carolina 2000 all over again. McCain's greatest asset is his reputation for straight talk, but he's shown himself capable of political expediency, as when he sold out his conscience on the confederate flag issue. He campaigned hard for President Bush even as he believed that Bush had made a royal mess of Iraq (and how it must gall the former POW to think that, while he was in chains in Hanoi, Dubya was at the driving range working on his long irons).
Mrs. Clinton's obstacles are even worse. She's smart like her husband, but she has a likeability problem that's worse even than John Kerry's. Look at what got Bill Clinton elected in 1992: A fresh face, hugely likeable, great one on one campaigner, able to cast himself as a genuine moderate rather than a liberal Democrat, a southern Governor, young, open, seemingly spontaneous and uncalculated. I'm scanning the list to see if any of these things apply to Hillary Rodham. Um....nope.
Bottom line, it's Jeb's race to lose. We are, after all, a hereditary monarchy.
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