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The Hillary Illusion By: Lowell Ponte
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, March 30, 2006

“This bill would literally criminalize the Good Samaritan and probably even Jesus himself,” said Senator Hillary Clinton last week.  She was criticizing legislation that would make felons of those who illegally cross America’s borders and their accomplices. “It is certainly not in keeping with my understanding of the Scripture.”

A year earlier, however, the junior Senator from New York preached a different sermon.

“I am, you know, adamantly against illegal immigrants,” Ms. Clinton told an interviewer on New York City’s WABC Radio. “Clearly, we have to make some tough decisions as a country, and one of them ought to be coming up with a much better entry-and-exit system so that if we’re going to let people in for the work that otherwise would not be done, let’s have a system that keeps track of them….at least a visa ID, some kind of entry-and-exit ID.…[W]e might have to move towards an ID system even for citizens.”


“People have to stop employing illegal immigrants,” Senator Clinton told the surprised WABC interviewer.


Welcome to the ongoing radical makeover of Hillary Rodham Clinton as she alters her public image in an effort to get elected President in 2008. Presidential politics often exhibit hints of American idolatry, but few candidates have ever gone to Ms. Clinton’s extremes. If one watches carefully, her conjuring tricks can be entertaining.


Her husband Bill Clinton was the first Democrat elected twice to the presidency (albeit by less than a majority of popular votes both times) since Franklin Delano Roosevelt. As his wife and First Lady, Ms. Clinton was part of the backroom planning behind Bill Clinton’s strategy of triangulation. He was a master of appearing to plant one foot on each side of the political spectrum while, with mixed messages and symbolic gestures, seeming to stand above the petty politicians on either side.


Senator Clinton’s shifting positions are part of her attempt to triangulate. But she cannot run in the same way Bill Clinton did because she and her husband are very different. As former Clinton consultant Dick Morris has described this difference, Bill Clinton is a warm Good Ole Boy who wants to win and be loved, and when this requires that he shift or compromise his political positions he readily does so. Hillary, as Morris describes her, is by contrast a cold, ruthless and unempathetic ideologue willing to lie to gain the power to impose her leftwing agenda. New York Times columnist William Safire called her a “congenital liar,” prompting the national joke that her scandal-ridden husband was merely a genital liar.


But Senator Clinton’s run for the presidency is not without advantages. She has raised a mountain of money, an estimated $20 million, $17 million of which is in her Friends of Hillary campaign fund. In doing so, she has systematically drained most of the regular Democratic Party contributors who might have bankrolled rival candidates, leaving many of her would-be opponents an insurmountable mountain to climb.


With this cash Clinton has already recruited and established a legion of campaign operatives. The New York Post this week reported that in addition to her Senate staff of three dozen she has hired 37 other full-time staffers at a cost of nearly $100,000 per month.


She has also siphoned off into her employ many of the veteran consultants, pollsters, media specialists, fundraisers, and other Democratic experts that rivals would need to mount campaigns of their own for the 2008 nomination. One result of this has been an average of almost two press releases every day, a rolling media blitz. Clinton has already sucked the air, media airtime, cash and potential skilled staffers out of her opponents’ campaigns before they could get started.


Ms. Clinton has also used her leverage behind the scenes within the Democratic National Committee and party to front-load the primary season, rescheduling key state contests earlier than before and in a more clustered pattern. This gives dark horse candidates little or no chance to win in early contests and gain traction, raise money or get media attention. It stacks the deck overwhelmingly in favor of the candidate who starts the race with the most cash and name recognition, Hillary Clinton, who by 2008 aims to have $100 million in her campaign coffers.


But Senator Clinton must also overcome several liabilities, and this explains her ongoing radical makeover. She has a hard core of devoted supporters, but polls show that more than 40 percent of likely voters across the nation actively dislike her.


The American tendency is to vote against rather than for candidates, to vote for an imperfect candidate to prevent the victory of a disliked opponent. The ideal candidate, therefore, is someone non-polarizing who is acceptable to many voters but hated by few. Political analysts generally believe that any candidate actively disliked by more than 40 percent of the electorate is doomed because so large a passionately-negative fraction of the electorate is almost impossible to overcome.


This is why some Democratic analysts view a Clinton candidacy with trepidation. She is the poster child of political polarization, likely to raise more money for the Republican standard bearer than she would for herself. She has more passionate foes than passionate friends. She could bring millions of people out on election day just to vote against her, and those voters would then also mark their ballots against other Democrats running on her slippery coattails. She could go down to defeat and drag her party down with her.


Ms. Clinton’s makeover is a gamble intended to do two things, one conventional and the other unconventional.


In conventional presidential politics a candidate is expected to “run to the party’s base” in the primaries and then to the center for the general election. A party’s base is made up of its loyalists, activists and single-cause allies. In the Republican Party most of these are conservatives, in the Democratic Party liberals and leftists. These are the people who for each side can be counted on to ring doorbells, work telephone banks, lick envelopes, contribute time and money, and on election day get out the vote and vote themselves.


But elections, the conventional wisdom holds, are won in the middle of the field between the 40 yard lines. Having secured his or her party’s base, a candidate must then turn and run towards this center ground to win the decisive votes of centrists who do not vote based on partisan loyalty. Hillary would be expected at this stage to be running left to win her party’s base, then after winning the 2008 nomination to run right, i.e., towards the center. 


(This is why some cynics say that if you want a politician to move right vote for a leftist, and vice versa. Only a President Richard Nixon with a secure conservative base could have made the diplomatic opening to Communist China. Only a President Bill Clinton with a secure liberal base could have “ended welfare as we know it.” Only an Israeli Prime Minister with hard line credentials such as Menachem Begin or Ariel Sharon could politically survive giving up territory in an effort to gain peace.)


Senator Clinton has certainly worked to secure key bases within the Democratic Party coalition. Her voting record rates close to 100 percent with organized labor, especially government employee unions. Her environmental votes rate in the 85-100 percent correct range according to groups such as the League of Conservation voters. Her Senate voting record on social issues has gone from 95 percent “liberal” in 2003 and 2004 to 100 percent “liberal” in 2005, according to the premier liberal rating group Americans for Democratic Action (ADA).


But Ms. Clinton has also shown some deviations from today’s left. According to the annual analysis of lawmaker votes by the non-partisan National Journal, for instance, Senator Clinton’s rank on economic matters shifted from being the 90th most liberal member on the spectrum of Senators in 2003 to only the 63rd most liberal member in 2004.


As noted in the Journal’s Almanac of American Politics edited by Michael Barone and Richard E. Cohen, during those same years Hillary Clinton’s votes on foreign policy moved her from being the 79th most liberal Senator to only the 58th most liberal. By 2005 she became the 54th most liberal Senator on foreign policy but reversed somewhat on economic policy votes, rising to rank 79th on the list of most liberal Senators.


Contrary to expectations, Senator Clinton was showing signs of moderating her politics – not on social spending, but on issues of business, the economy and foreign policy. During these three years the U.S. Chamber of Commerce moved their rating for her from 35 percent pro-business in 2003 to 50 percent pro-business in 2004 – and then back to 35 percent in 2005.


The challenge for Hillary Clinton is that the usual pattern of running left and then to the center will not solve, and indeed would exacerbate, her main problem with the electorate.

The good news for Clinton is that she already has almost limitless money and name recognition, and therefore has less need of the leftwing Democratic “base” than most candidates.


The typical moderate and conservative American voter already perceives Senator Clinton to be left-of-center and ideological rather than pragmatic in her politics. This is a large part of the visceral negativity so many voters feel towards her.


To counter this perception and calm the emotional antipathy in much of the electorate, Senator Clinton has staked out key areas to demonstrate her moderation. She has co-authored legislation and initiatives with several Republican Senators, among them Senate leader Bill Frist of Tennessee and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.


With conservative Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorium Ms. Clinton co-authored legislation to study the impact of television and the Internet on children, condemning the sexual and violent images kids see in such media as a “silent epidemic” that threatens America’s youth.


Hillary Clinton became one of the leading Democratic Senators speaking out in support of  President George W. Bush’s proposals to allocate taxpayer dollars to faith-based initiatives.


“I was lucky,” she told one Boston audience favoring such proposals, “to be raised in a praying family and learned to say my prayers as a very young child.” 


This is the same Hillary Clinton who, as First Lady, pressured the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to create a new crime, “Religious Harassment,” for which a manager or employer could be fined and punished merely for wearing a rosary or yarmulke or for having a Bible on his or her desk. It’s the same Hillary Clinton who urged the U.S. Postal Service to stop issuing its traditional Christmastime stamps depicting Jesus and Mary.


Senator Clinton apparently now agrees with Machiavelli that the Prince (or Princess) “must appear to be religious.” [Emphasis added.]


And, to her credit, Senator Clinton voted not only for the use of force in Iraq but also, unlike the 2004 Democratic standard bearer Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, for the $87 billion supplemental to fund the overthrow of Iraqi dictator and mass murderer Saddam Hussein. This vote has not endeared Ms. Clinton to the farthest lunatic fringe of the Left.


“I find Hillary Clinton to be a great disappointment,” said radical actress Susan Sarandon, who soon will portray anti-war protestor Cindy Sheehan in a movie. “She’s lost her progressive following because of her caution and centrist approach. It bothers me when she voted for the war.”


Does this mean Hillary is losing her base?  Perhaps in some small measure, but this greatly enhances her chance of winning in 2008.


Americans know Hillary Clinton as the Goldwater Girl from Illinois who got radicalized at Wellesley College, where she wrote her thesis on applying the tactics of radical Saul Alinsky to American politics. We know her as the Yale Law School graduate who clerked in the law office of the lawyers for the Communist Party USA and worked with the Black Panthers. We know her as the First Lady of Arkansas who miraculously parlayed $1,000 into $100,000 in commodity trading in a deal about as honest as the roulette wheel at Rick’s in the movie “Casablanca.”


The best thing that could happen to Hillary would be a Sister Souljah moment like her husband’s, when Bill Clinton denounced the foul-mouthed singer and thereby showed that he was not a sycophant of the African-American constituency of the Democratic Party.


For Hillary this could be her Susan Sarandon moment, using the recent criticisms of Sarandon and leftist columnist Molly Ivins and others to demonstrate that she cannot be a radical leftist because these radical leftists have repudiated her.


Cynics might wonder whether this is part of a pre-arranged strategy. Surely Sarandon, Ivins and their fellow radicals know that their embrace would be the political kiss of death to Hillary Clinton’s presidential ambitions – and that a display, however phony, of them distancing themselves from Hillary might help elect her. Once Hillary is President, these radicals might have been promised, they will be invited to help her shape policy in the Oval Office. 


Perhaps Sarandon and her comrades are sincere, but notice that they have not urged their followers to vote for any other specific candidate such as Ralph Nader.  Since 1984 even the Communist Party USA has officially directed its members to vote for the Democratic candidate – although neither the CPUSA nor the establishment media call public attention to this. As the 2008 election draws near, Sarandon, Ivins & co. can always declare that the evil of the Republican candidate is simply too much to endure and that all good “Progressives” must hold their noses and vote for Hillary.


On the softer edge of the loony Left, actress Sharon Stone has sought publicity for her latest film by announcing that Hillary Clinton is “too sexy” to run for President in 2008.


“A woman should be past her sexuality when she runs,” said Stone. “Hillary still has sexual power and I don’t think people will accept that. It’s too threatening.”


What a cunning way to suggest that Hillary is attractive, especially when this comes from the woman who was approached in 2003 to play Hillary Clinton in a movie. And especially when this comes from an actress invited by Bill Clinton to join him in Canada at an economic summit meeting in Vancouver, a summit Hillary was not attending. As National Review writer Jonah Goldberg noted in 2000, when liberal singer Barbra Streisand “learned that Sharon visited the President more often than she herself did, she reportedly fumed: ‘What does Sharon Stone know about policy?’”


The singer Madonna, whose life in some ways parallels Hillary Clinton’s, has urged Senator Clinton to run for President. So, too, have assorted Hollywood types. And all can in their own ways help with Ms. Clinton’s radical makeover.


Get ready for more professions of faith and references to Jesus from Senator Clinton, predicted veteran pollster Scott Rasmussen in 2005. And do not be surprised, as San Francisco satirist Jeremy Robb foresaw, if you read that “Hillary will soon buy a handgun, speak out against infidelity, curb affirmative action, attend a NASCAR event, smoke a cigar in public, and vote in favor of Bush’s same-sex marriage constitutional amendment.”


The path to the presidency is seldom straight.


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Mr. Ponte co-hosts a national radio talk show Monday through Friday 6-8 PM Eastern Time (3-5 PM Pacific Time) on the Genesis Communications Network. Internet Audio worldwide is at GCNlive .com. The show's live call-in number is 1-800-259-9231. A professional speaker, he is a former Roving Editor for Reader's Digest.

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