The Hil­lary fac­tor

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Cal Thomas

Fundrais­ers on the left and right are sali­vat­ing now that Sen. Hil­lary Clin­ton has de­clared, “I’m in” the 2008 pres­i­den­tial race. On the left, fem­i­nists will likely hail her as the rein­car­na­tion of suf­fragette Susan B. An­thony. On the right, con­ser­va­tives will por­tray her as a cross be­tween Lady Mac­beth and Bon­nie Parker.

Con­ser­va­tives should be care­ful. The non­stop at­tacks on Bill Clin­ton did not keep him from win­ning in 1992, nor did his per­sonal scan­dals pre­vent his re-elec­tion four years later. Us­ing sim­i­lar smear tac­tics on Hil­lary Clin­ton will only turn her into a vic­tim and cause many not pre­dis­posed to vote for her to sup­port her.

Men can’t run against a wo­man the way they run against other men. For­mer Repub­li­can Rep. Rick Lazio learned the dou­ble stan­dard vot­ers ap­ply to a fe­male can­di­date when he chal­lenged her in 2000 for the New York Se­nate seat she now holds. Dur­ing a de­bate, Mr. Lazio left his lectern and in­vaded her per­sonal space to make a point. Many vot­ers saw a man try­ing to phys­i­cally in­tim­i­date a wo­man and Mr. Lazio lost the de­bate and the elec­tion.

Some con­ser­va­tive Web sites are al­ready claim­ing Mrs. Clin- ton will unite the Repub­li­can base like no other Demo­cratic can­di­date. Maybe, but that base is too small to counter what surely will be a surge in fe­male vot­ers. A re­cent USA To­day/ CNN/Gallup Poll found that 6 in 10 women were likely to sup­port Mrs. Clin­ton in her run for the White House.

A ma­jor ad­van­tage for Repub­li­cans is that Hil­lary is not her hus­band. She is aloof and cal­cu­lat­ing, while he can be warm and en­gag­ing. We have seen his tem­per — most re­cently in an in­ter­view with Fox’s Chris Wal­lace — but we have only heard about hers. Will the pub­lic ac­cept this kind of be­hav­ior from a wo­man who wants to be pres­i­dent? Will such be­hav­ior be seen as strength or char­ac­ter weak­ness?

In an in­ter­view with the Lon­don Sun­day Times, Mr. Clin­ton’s cam­paign man­ager, Terry McAuliffe, com­pared her to for­mer Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Mar­garet Thatcher. “Their poli­cies are to­tally dif­fer­ent,” Mr. McAuliffe said, “but they are both per­ceived as very tough.” Hil­lary Clin­ton and Mar­garet Thatcher are as dif­fer­ent as Phyl­lis Sch­lafly and Glo­ria Steinem. Tough­ness in the pur­suit of bad ideas is as un­help­ful as weak­ness in pur­suit of good ones.

In her video­taped an­nounce­ment, which em­u­lated Sen. Barack Obama’s an­nounce­ment of his pres­i­den­tial can­di­dacy two weeks ago, Mrs. Clin­ton ticked off the is­sues about which she is ticked off, be­cause she says the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion has failed to deal with them. They in­clude health care, So­cial Se­cu­rity, Medi­care and Iraq. The Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion has at­tempted to ad­dress all of th­ese, but Democrats have blocked any progress. It’s an old po­lit­i­cal trick. You work against suc­cess and then blame fail­ure on the pres­i­dent.

The Clin­tons have a well-oiled po­lit­i­cal ma­chine that neu­tral­izes peo­ple who get in the way of their pur­suit of wealth and power. Mrs. Clin­ton sounded as if she is ready to haul out that ma­chine again when she said: “I have never been afraid to stand up for what I be­lieve in or to face down the Repub­li­can ma- chine. Af­ter nearly $70 mil­lion spent against my cam­paigns in New York and two land­slide wins, I can say I know how Wash­ing­ton Repub­li­cans think, how they op­er­ate, and how to beat them.”

Me­dia re­ports speak of this be­ing the most “di­verse” pres­i­den­tial race ever with a wo­man, (Mrs. Clin­ton), an AfricanAmer­i­can (Mr. Obama) and a His­panic (New Mex­ico’s Bill Richard­son). But this is not ide­o­log­i­cal di­ver­sity, as all are lib­er­als. This race shouldn’t be about race, gen­der or eth­nic­ity, but ideas. The big me­dia, so far, have tossed Mrs. Clin­ton soft­ball ques­tions. Han­dlers have been able to get away with lim­it­ing ques­tions to pre-ap­proved sub­jects. The pub­lic will de­mand more from her and the me­dia in a pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.

There has never been a cam­paign like the one the coun­try is about to ex­pe­ri­ence. The fo­cus should not be on gen­der or any other side is­sue, but on who is best qual­i­fied to de­fend the coun­try against its many en­e­mies, for­eign and do­mes­tic.

Look for the dirt­i­est, mean­est and most costly pres­i­den­tial cam­paign in his­tory in pur­suit of the an­swer.

Cal Thomas is a na­tion­ally syn­di­cated colum­nist.

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