Monday, January 22, 2007

REACT: Clinton is “in” (trouble)

In the wake of Barak Obama’s (See! Even I cannot keep his name out of print), long awaited but not surprising announcement that he is “exploring” a presidential race, New York Senator Hillary Clinton has firmly announced that she is “IN”.

What she is “in,” however, is trouble. Not long ago, she was the golden girl of the Democrat party. I suspect many, including herself, felt her nomination was just a matter of time.

On the plus side was her successful run for the Senate, where she did not serve as the shrill strident voice her critics had hoped. She proved to be a popular carpetbagger, and shed that appellation with a strong win for a second term. She did not join the caucus of outrageous liberals, and basically did pretty well for herself.

Hillary has pretty much convinced the public that she is not simply the political benefactor of her husband. This is critical. She showed that she is not a tag-a-long, and more importantly, that she is the spouse but not the clone of Clinton the First.

She still has advantage over Obama with regard to debts and structure. Lots of the political decision makers owe the Clintons. They provided the spoils of government largess during Bill’s presidency, and a lot of political fundraising then and now. Early expectation enabled her to garner some important commitments.

However, all of that may mean nothing. Whether Obama is the man or not, he has shown Hillary to be vulnerable – a deadly perception in political warfare. This is not uniquely to Obama’s advantage. Governor John Edward could shoot past the two leaders as they mutually fizzle. After several months of Obama-Clinton battling over position, the public may welcome a “fresh” candidate. We should always keep in mind that early leads and fawning publicity are usually not good in presidential races. Early front-runners frequently fail.

The nation appears ready for a woman president, and has been so for about a decade. But the person still matter to the voters – with the possible exception of the now irrelevant feminist extremists. Hillary’s move to the center appears to be a wash. She gains some centrist support, and loses the ladies of the far left.

She can only do so much to change her image. A softer hairstyle, more business-like attire, and some shift in policy cannot overcome her stage presence, which is as soothing as fingernails on a blackboard. She suffers from inverse charisma.

Despite her efforts to move away from the ethical issues of her husband’s term, she will have to deal with them again. It is a hit like Ted Kennedy’s bridge over trouble waters. Though Chappaquiddick is not a matter of public attention every day (expect to the dead girl’s poor family), it reappeared in the more intense spotlight when Kennedy toyed with a presidential run. Each time, Chappaquiddick rose like a bad Brigadoon out of the swamp of Martha’s Vineyard.

As the campaign progress, the questions of HER culpabilities during the Clinton years will again resurface. I think one of the more damaging questions will surround the existence of those “enemy” IRS and FBI files in HER office – after she denied having them. There are also a number of issues to be explored regarding her work with the Rose law firm.

When this stuff hits the press at the most strategic times, it will not be the work of Republican Clinton bashers. It will come from the Obama team, specifically his top consultant David Axelrod, who has a well-deserved reputation as a very aggressive, tough, no-holds-barred political combatant. If Hilary ever went through a tollgate without paying, Axelrod will find it and use it to maximum effect. By the time he is done, the infraction will look like criminal road rage.

This is going to be one interesting political season.

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