- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 20, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The waggish comment that second marriages represent the triumph of hope over experience was, I believe, first mentioned in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Many a twice-married person will affirm its correctness.

It also applies to politics. A candidate spouting a seductive campaign-line is sometimes elected in the hope he will work out better than a previous peddler of that line. Every presidency is different because it occurs in a unique time, but flawed policy is still flawed policy.

The two Democratic candidates — Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton — have defined their candidacies by the words Hope and Experience. Mr. Obama has written an autobiography titled, “The Audacity of Hope.” The hope to which he truly aspires (one imagines) is that he can be elected president on a promise of “change” which he hasn’t really defined (and hopes no one will ask about). That would indeed be audacious hope.

Mrs. Clinton is jousting furiously with Mr. Obama and the media to define herself as the “experience” candidate. She emphasizes her “35 years of experience” as a qualification for the nation’s highest office. Certainly she has worked that long. But doing what, exactly? The chronology of her career is known — i.e.:

Born in 1947; 1965-‘69: Undergraduate — Wellesley College; 1969: First student to speak at a Wellesley commencement; 1973: Graduated Yale Law School; started as congressional lawyer; 1975: Married Bill Clinton, moved to Arkansas; 1976-‘79: Rose Law Firm associate; 1979-‘92: Rose Law Firm partner; 1979-‘81, 1983-‘92: Arkansas first lady; 1979-‘92: Children’s advocacy; on Wal-Mart Board and other corporate boards; 1993-‘01: U.S. first lady; 2001-present: Junior U. S. senator from New York.

Mrs. Clinton was named as one of the country’s 100 “most influential lawyers” in 1988 and 1991. President Clinton appointed her in 1993 to chair a commission to design a government health-care system, but her plan failed to win congressional passage. In 1997, she helped establish the State Children’s Health Insurance Fund and the Adoption and Safe Families Act. She became the only first lady in history to be subpoenaed by a federal grand jury when she was called to testify in the Whitewater fraud case in 1996. (She was never charged in this or any of the other legal controversies during her husband’s presidency.)

As senator, she has supported President Bush on some foreign policy issues, including the Iraq War Resolution of 2002. She later opposed Bush administration conduct of the war and voted against several Bush judicial appointees. She and Mr. Obama are rated as the most liberal members of the U. S. Senate.

Angry partisans might castigate me for glossing over Mrs. Clinton’s (controversial) work in formulating new legal policy for children’s advocacy, or for questioning whether her resume really prepares her for the Oval Office. My conclusions are fair game, but it seems legitimate to examine some of her “accomplishments.”

The “most influential lawyer” appellation invites attention. Some of my female colleagues proudly cited this during the 1992 Clinton campaign. They were outraged when I noted that “influential” does not necessarily mean “competent” or “skillful.”

Why was Mrs. Clinton so “influential”? Because she was married to the governor of Arkansas while practicing law in that state. That fact undoubtedly drew lucrative cases to the Rose Law Firm. Was it a coincidence that she was named Rose Law Partner (at age 32) in 1979? (The same year when Mr. Clinton first became governor.) Pillow talk with the guv made her one of Rose Law’s hottest properties. (Remember, a law practice is a business.)

I do not suggest dishonest dealing was involved — although the Whitewater land deal certainly had an unpleasant smell. Without question, important clients wishing to curry influence at the state level were well advised to bring their law business to the firm where the governor’s wife was a partner. This was a new twist of the “good old boy” connection and obviously a fundamental conflict of interest.

Mrs. Clinton says her “participation” in important foreign policy decisions during her husband’s presidency prepared her to lead “from Day One.” We have only her say-so on this, however. The Clintons have so far refused to release documents that might clarify her exact role. Keeping these records under wraps allows her to go about claiming “influence” (there’s that word again) and “experience” in high-level decisions without fear of contradiction. It is the presidential version of “dead men tell no tales.” Sealed documents are as silent as the grave.

Both Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton represent a classic “second marriage” for the country: Mr. Obama, because he promises the same undefined “change” that Bill Clinton won on in 1992; Mrs. Clinton, because she claims her “experience” will make her a smarter, tougher, more sensitive, better behaved female version of Bill. (Nice hair and teeth, too.) Maybe we’ll discover what “change” the Big O has in mind before November, and maybe we won’t. Maybe the truth will emerge on exactly what role Hillary played — and at what level — in Bill’s administration. But maybe not. History might pivot on what we learn, and when.

To be sure, John McCain carries his own baggage. (Last summer he did so, literally, when his campaign looked ready to tank.) He’s not perfect (is any politician?) but will be a known quantity. I don’t like everything about his policies. But I’m pretty sure I’m seeing the real guy, not some veiled agent of “hope” or claimant to phantom “experience.” We know where he has been and what he has done.

Being president is a tough job. From here, it looks like Mr. McCain is a pretty tough customer. He doesn’t mind answering questions, he tells it straight, and he’s no dummy. We could do worse.

In November, voters in those booths will have to decide if they’re ready to gamble on a “second marriage” or not. I hope not. Mr. McCain looks like the fresh start we really need.

WOODY ZIMMERMAN

Author of a weekly column, “At Large,” in the Atlantic Highlands Herald, (www.ahherald.com).

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