Hillary stuck between Barack and a hard place
By Michael M. Bates
Mrs. Clinton is not a sympathetic figure. Although there may still be a residue of public empathy because of her husband's bad behavior, many people view her as an enabler, aware of his philandering from the start. As the song goes, she knew he was a snake before she took him in.
There must be, however, a modicum of compassion for her now. With the sudden emergence of Barack – make that Barack! – Obama as a likely candidate for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, she's gone from Hillary the inevitable to Hillary the unenviable.
Senator Obama says he's thinking of running. What he really means is he wants Democratic voters to think of him running. And to ask, nay beg, him to accept their coronation.
There's Obama on Oprah. There's Obama on the cover of Time. There's Obama persistently being hyped on cable news show as serious presidential timber.
On one program the other day, the media's excitement was conspicuous. Chris Matthews told viewers that Senator Obama "can stand before a crowd and make them feel magic." A Time reporter noted that the Illinois senator "really is really good." Not to be outdone, a BBC correspondent expressed her opinion that Barack "has all sorts of charisma. He is ridiculously good looking!"
Assuredly, his pals in the mainstream media are doing what they can to peddle Obama. Yet there's no doubting his appeal to rank-and-file Democrats as well.
Why? In a word, baggage.
Barack doesn't have a lot. At least not a lot that's generally known. He's immunized himself to a certain degree by already admitting marijuana and cocaine use. That's one skeleton that won't tumble out of the closet.
By contrast, Mrs. Clinton needs a platoon of skycaps to lug her baggage around. Her involvement in her husband's last-minute pardons, her brothers' involvement in her husband's last-minute pardons, FBI files, missing billing records, fundraising improprieties, Whitewater, her health care reform fiasco, Vince Foster, Webster Hubbell, and who hired a bar bouncer to run White House security are just a few of the choice topics that would be reexamined if she secured the nomination.
Even her most enthusiastic admirers have to know what she's in for.
Mrs. Clinton also has something else Mr. Obama doesn't: a six-year record of voting in the Senate. Those thousands of pieces of legislation she's voted on will be gone over with a fine toothcomb.
Her liberalism will be evident. While this will help within her party, Democrats who, for a change of pace, want to win the presidency may wish to present a more moderate image.
All this doesn't mean Mr. Obama will be waltzing to the White House. It's true that he only has two years of casting votes in Washington. Still, his own liberalism will soon be obvious.
The National Journal's evaluation for 2005 shows Mrs. Clinton voted more liberal on economic, defense and foreign policy issues than 80 percent of her colleagues. Mr. Obama's liberal composite score was even higher, at 83 percent. Again, that might be beneficial in seeking his party's nod, but not in November.
Mr. Obama's record as a state senator in Illinois will be inspected. He voted for tax increases, abortions and mandated sex education from kindergarten. He opposed pornography filers on school computers, and when a vote came on banning strip clubs and porn shops within 1,000 feet of schools and churches, the best he could do was vote "present."
Republicans will exploit that, as well as his admission that "We (Democrats) are trying to decide what our core values are." For a smart man, the senator sure seems vague much of the time. Trying to figure out what his core values are is tricky.
His campaigning skills are untested. Mr. Obama secured his U.S. senatorial nomination in 2004 only when the frontrunner's campaign collapsed because of scandal. Four years earlier, he tried taking a congressional nomination from former Black Panther Bobby Rush and lost by a 2-1 ratio.
Can Senator Obama survive the scrutiny brought by a presidential campaign? Can he endure the barrage of questions, even those from fawningly friendly reporters?
A generation ago another press darling, Teddy Kennedy, enjoyed widespread popularity. A 1979 Harris poll had Kennedy with a 56 to 39 percent lead among Democrats over incumbent President Jimmy Carter for the 1980 nomination. Teddy couldn't handle the close attention, however, and his challenge fell short.
Mrs. Clinton has her failings – and I'm eager to point them out – but she won't wilt in the glaring lights of a national campaign. Even if reporters don't call her ridiculously good looking.
As someone without a dog in this fight, I'm looking forward to the pantsuit and the empty suit duking it out.
This Michael M. Bates column appeared in the October 26, 2006 Reporter Newspapers.