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Monday, May 09, 2005

Hillary

It's normal for the allure of the next presidential election to heighten as any incumbent president's lame duck limp becomes more obvious. This is not to say Mr. Bush won't get anything accomplished legislatively during term two; it is rather to say he's heading into that familiar territory where sands slipping through the hour glass inevitably cause political capital to dissipate. What's new about the new presidential election cycle is that has begun so soon. I'd say "breathtakingly" soon, but "stultifying" seems closer to the mark. Hillary. We'll be hearing about Hillary from now on. Joe Klein's latest Newsweek column about why she shouldn't run gets it right on every point. Money quote:
She has a clenched, wary public presence, which won't work well in an electorate that prizes aw-shucks informality; she isn't a particularly warm or eloquent speaker, especially in front of large audiences. Any woman running for President will face a toughness conundrum: she will constantly have to prove her strength and be careful about showing her emotions. She won't have the luxury of, say, Bill Clinton's public sogginess. It will take a brilliant politician to create a credible feminine presidential style. So far, Senator Clinton hasn't shown the ease or creativity necessary to break the ultimate glass ceiling.
Hillary will run — her whole life has been leading up to it, back to the Yale days when she and Bill agreed he would go first. Faced with reminders of ghosts from Bill's W.H. tenure, Hillary's spin machine will counter that all the past scandals and rumors of scandals have been thoroughly investigated and laid to rest. If her enemies could have gotten her indicted they would have; and on and on. Sounds good, but in today's political environment the absence of fire doesn't make smoke less relevant or less useful. Translation: Expect highly effective Swift-Boat type anti-Hillary advertising campaigns to begin if she runs for a second senate term or if she steps aside to start early in Iowa and New Hampshire. The ad campaign won't have to prove Hillary crossed any particular criminal boundary during her two terms as co-president (or during her tenure at the Rose Law office — remember the Little Rock years?) No, it will be enough for her political enemies to place her past ethical skirmishes in full view. Unkind? Defnitely. Unfair? Probably. Effective? Almost certainly. Key word: "almost." It's still very early, and much can yet happen. Remember when Kerry's campaign was predicted to collapse during the early '04 primaries? Or how about that young Arkansas governor, who was laughed at by pundits who said no Democrat stood a chance of defeating Bush 41 after the Gulf War? He was counted out early, and then again when Jennifer Flowers blossomed. (We know the rest: Comeback Kid, who kept on coming back — thanks in no small part to the buffoonery of a historical footnote named Sister Soulja during the primaries, and Ross Perot's general election vote tally, which arguably cost Bush the Elder a second term.) "The conventional wisdom is not just sometimes wrong, it's always wrong." That's what my friend Fred Harris used to say, before launching his longshot 1972 "New Populist" campaign for president. Laughed at by the experts, Fred said he would depend on the "little people" to rise up and teach the political big wigs a lesson. "I guess the little people couldn't reach my name on the ballot" was the former Oklahoma senator's playfully charming explanation — offered as he left the race after doing badly in the early primaries. Which is to say that if Hillary begins to face an onslaught of Klein-type bashing, resulting in conventional wisdom decrees that her goose is cooked, ironically that may help propel her forward. So, this word to those who want to stop her: Start encouraging Hillary's every move. Spread stories that her campaign's looking hard to beat, that nobody's got a chance of derailing her success. Meanwhile, there's going to be no stopping the punditry from this point forward. For as others have pointed out before me: 2008 is the first presidential election since 1952 in which neither party has an incumbent president or vice president ready to make the race. That alone is remarkable. One last thought: I'm not a betting guy, but if I were I would lay odds on this scenario: Look for a billionaire candidate to launch a credible Perot-style candidacy. "Credible Perot-style" may sound oxymoronic, so let me add this qualifer. I'm thinking of someone sane (necessary but not sufficient). An appealing candidate with a grasp of issues, a civic background, no skeletons in the closet; strong on defense, centrist on social issues, fiscally conservative. Someone with enough personal money to fund a winning campaign, start to finish. Capable of wearing well on the American populace, rather than unraveling before our very eyes ("decompensating in full public view," as the shrinks might say). I don't have any such candidate in mind, and no knowledge of anyone planning to run. But I would look for a Jon Corzine type, some smart Boomer who made serious bucks when there was still air in the Internet balloon. He might be an elephant or a donkey or an independent. Where would such a candidate emerge? Keep your eye on Larry King's program notes. That's where Ross Perot came from. Remember his "reluctance" to run, but his willingness to "listen to what the people want"? 2008: all even numbers, and most of them round. What does that mean? Nothing — it's numerology, it's fun, it's full-blown gibberish! Get ready, the White House silly season's fixin' to commence again. Oh, this is going to be so good.