Just a few months ago, the 2008 presidential contest seemed
predetermined. New York lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Sen. Hillary Clinton
were far ahead in their respective party polls. And in the one-on-one
match-up, Mrs. Clinton was all but declared the foreordained winner a
year in advance. But not now.
After Barack Obama's unexpected
surge in Iowa, Bill and Hillary Clinton resorted to chewing him up
through their trademark politics of personal destruction. Thanks to
Clinton Inc., we now hear almost daily that Mr. Obama is inspirational
but inexperienced, that he had admitted to drug use, that his middle
name is Hussein, that he really was not against the Iraq war, that he
consorts with Chicago slumlords, that he spins fairy tales, and that he
likes Ronald Reagan. Hillary found her many voices and pulled out all
the stops — screeching, accusing and nearly crying — until finally Bill
Clinton himself was unleashed.
Long gone was Bill's carefully
crafted veneer of former president as global humanitarian and
bipartisan senior statesmen. Instead, the Bill of old lost his
legendary temper at reporters. He shook his finger. He bent the truth.
Always he distorted Mr. Obama's record.
Then a funny thing
happened. Hillary's liberal audience jeered at the pro-wrestling
tactics of the Clinton tag team. The Democratic referees warned the
Clintons to stop the eye gouging. Liberal spectators were bewildered
not so much at the familiar Clinton knee-in-the-groin, but that it
would be turned on one of their own good guys — and a young,
soft-spoken and idealistic African-American at that.
"shocked" Democrats cried foul and recalled the tawdry pardons,
impeachment and the tainted Bill Clinton of the 1990s — not the
rehabilitated Bill who helps tsunami victims and presides over the
Clinton Global Initiative.
When the Clintons' return to power crashed into liberal dogmas about race and gender, all sorts of unexpected ironies arose:
as our first "black" president, had encouraged identity politics among
a collective black electorate, so why was he angry that
African-Americans might vote collectively for Mr. Obama? And had any
recent former president ever regressed to such nasty character
assassination on the campaign trail? As a committed feminist, why was
Hillary calling for a male bailout by outsourcing her dirty work to her
husband? And for whom were we now voting — Hillary, Bill or some sort
of Clinton centaur, her supposedly rational head and torso implanted on
his frisky body and legs.
The result of all this has been
that while Hillary still polls ahead of the surging Mr. Obama in most
states, in hypothetical general election polls she runs behind
Republican front-runner Sen. John McCain. End of story?
Hardly. In reaction to Mr. McCain's own surge and the Republican
windfall, the conservative base went ballistic. Soon a Republican civil
war broke out over how best to lose the election.
McCain's 82 percent ranking by the American Conservative Union, and his
support for balanced budgets, an end to pork-barrel spending and
earmarks, strong support for the war, and expressed regret over once
supporting the Bush illegal immigration reform package, Mr. McCain was
branded by the conservative media as a sellout and a near liberal. Not
to mention, he was supposedly too old and hot-tempered to be the
Republican nominee. The more Mr. McCain was discovered not to be a
perfect conservative, the more he was accused of not even being a good
Even stranger, the various Republican candidates began
invoking Ronald Reagan's three-decade-old tenure as the new litmus test
of the times — apparently to show how moderates like the wayward Mr.
McCain fell far short of the Gipper's true-blue conservatism.
conservatives supposed to forget that a maverick Reagan raised some
taxes, signed an illegal alien amnesty bill, expanded government,
appointed centrist Supreme Court justices, advocated nuclear
disarmament, sold arms to Iran and pulled out of Lebanon — but to
remember only that John McCain was not for the original Bush tax cuts
or once supported the administration's offer of a quasi-amnesty?
Democratic cat-fighters are doing their best to give away a once-sure
general election, but the Republicans seem to be doing even more to
ensure that they forfeit the unexpected gift they've been given.
Hillary Clinton does end up winning her party's nomination, November's
vote may hinge on whether moderates and liberals are nauseated enough
by the Clintons' brawling and character assassination to cross over and
vote for a decorated Republican war hero — that is, if his own
flag-waving party doesn't destroy him first.