Political Hay

Richard Milhous Rodham

Hillary's ruthlessness is morbidly entertaining.

By 3.5.08

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Nothing gets the Clintons' Machiavellian juices flowing like a tricky race with an "idealist." Whether facing Paul Tsongas, Jerry Brown, or Barack Obama, the Clintons despise the same liberal idealists they pretend to adore.

Remember the savage comments Hillary made about "St. Paul" before he pegged out of the 1992 race? Hillary considered him a self-righteous nebbish, and in a choking fury, after Tsongas called Bill a "pander bear," instructed Clinton campaign hacks to destroy him. Governor Moonbeam, who deserves a footnote in American political history for, if nothing else, first mentioning Hillary's seedy work at the Rose Law Firm (which prompted faux-chivalrous blubbering from Bill in one of the 1992 debates), received similarly biting treatment.

Now it is Obama's turn. Even more than Bill it seems Hillary enjoys the ruthlessness of politics, sifting through blades in her bag of dirty tricks until she finds one that really cuts.

She is as methodical and disciplined as Nixon. Once a low tactic has outlived its usefulness she discards it and searches for a better one. There is no stubborn time-wasting. After the Obama as a cokehead-and-possible-drug-dealer smear failed, she sent her minions down a more promising avenue: Obama, the naive pacifist whose name and past raise questions about his connection to our enemy's religion.

You have to hand it to her: she basically took Obama's greatest strength (in the eyes of liberals) -- that he opposed the Iraq war -- and turned into a weakness by planting the Muslim smear. That's why her seemingly lame red phone ad worked. Coupled with the photo on Drudge of Obama in Muslim garb -- which Drudge says Clinton staffers disseminated -- the ad triggered real fears. And her doubt-raising, he-is-not-a-Muslim "as far as I know" hedge on 60 Minutes was a nice touch too.

Within Hillary's calculated pauses the whisper of a smear suggested itself: Do we really want a Muslim defending America against jihadists? No wonder he didn't vote for the war; no wonder he wants to sit down with Iranians and Syrians.

THE LIBERALISM OF the Clintons, whenever they run into electoral troubles, turns parasitic on conservatism, drawing vitality from the exploitation of traditional concerns. Let's portray ourselves as patriotic Christians while painting the Obamas as America-hating Muslims, you can almost hear the Clintons say in a telephonic Nixonian exchange.

Notice that Bill and Chelsea were dispatched to Joel Osteen's Christian mega-church in Houston not long after the Drudge photo was bouncing around the Internet. "We just appreciate you serving the country," Osteen gushed to the Clintons. Did they adjourn for apple pie later?

I also noticed earlier that week a Clinton flak, appearing on Tucker, wearing a necklace with a Christian cross. That Obama had to declare himself a "devout Christian" testifies to the effectiveness of the Clintons' subtle smear.

Hillary's exploitation of Louis Farrakhan's endorsement of Obama added to this atmosphere of doubt. Pundits called that a gaffe on her part, but dwelling on his support for Obama in the debate kicked up a few more particles of anxiety. To force an opponent who has been dogged by Islamic rumors to say that the "Nation of Islam" is playing no role in his campaign is a victory in itself.

Making Hillary's harrumphing about whether Obama would "reject and denounce" Farrakhan's support all the richer was that a few days later she refused to do the same when one of her Latino supporters in Texas popped off about the historic indifference of black pols to Mexicans. She certainly wasn't going to reject and denounce that woman; she needed every last Hispanic vote in Texas and couldn't risk offending anyone. So, as with the other smears, she just played dumb.

Hillary relishes that oldest trick in politics -- distancing yourself from a smear while making sure to repeat it. She just hates it, you understand, that faceless enemies of decency are calling her opponent a cokehead and Muslim. Then, quickly shifting attention from his troubles to hers, she adds that she dislikes such smears so much because they remind her of what she and her husband have endured.

That is itself a perversely effective doubt-raising tactic, since, if the smears at Obama are on the same evidentiary plane as rumors about the Clintons' corruption, ordinary Americans may suspect the smears to be true.

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About the Author
George Neumayr, a contributing editor to The American Spectator, is co-author, with Phyllis Schlafly, of the new book, No Higher Power: Obama's War on Religious Freedom.