- The Washington Times - Friday, September 15, 2000

After Wednesday night's face-off in Buffalo, moderated by NBC's Tim Russert, we now know beyond a doubt why Hillary Rodham Clinton has done her level best to evade the press. Mrs. Clinton, confronted by the toughest questions and challenges of her brief political career, chose to ignore and evade the most pointed queries. She filled time rather than directly answer such questions as to why her health care plan proposed to ration health care it was just "a starting point," she finally offered lamely. She failed even to address Republican candidate Rick Lazio's scathing critique of her input into Arkansas's educational system, which he said was nothing less than "a disaster."

By contrast, Mr. Lazio was forceful, frank, and assured, proving himself to be a formidable candidate, whether explaining his education plan, which provides vouchers for children in failing schools (Mrs. Clinton opposes vouchers), or standing fast in his belief, expressed in a summer fund-raising letter, that "the first lady embarrassed our country." It seems the man actually has convictions.

The evening's most theatrical moment was the signature gambit in which Mr. Lazio challenged Mrs. Clinton to join him by signing a letter renouncing the use of soft money in the campaign. But the most riveting drama of the hour-long debate came after Mr. Russert played a clip of Mrs. Clinton's infamous 1998 "vast right-wing conspiracy" interview on NBC's "Today Show." There, she declared categorically that her husband had not conducted an adulterous liaison in the White House or, rather, that "That is not going to be proven true."

Said Mr. Russert: "Regrettably, that has been proven true. Do you regret misleading the American people? And secondly … would you now apologize for branding people [who criticized the president's conduct] as part of a vast right-wing conspiracy?"

Clearly, a quick recitation of the New York state bird, tree and motto wasn't going to get her out of this one. Mrs. Clinton mechanically activated victim-mode, cranking out a story of "pain," and "perspective" "We're going to have to wait until those books are written," she said, proving she hasn't set foot inside a bookstore lately and the desire to "go forward in a united way." And whatever that means, it doesn't include an apology; indeed, Mrs. Clinton, when pressed, once again indicated that criticism of her husband came from pure political pique. "But you mentioned trust," she continued. "And, you know, I'm standing here running for the Senate. I didn't cast the votes that Newt Gingrich asked me to cast," she said, changing stripping? gears as she sought an exit line.

Newt Gingrich? Is he running? Mrs. Clinton mentioned the former speaker of the House at least a half a dozen times over the hour-long debate, like an ancient totem to give herself a phony courage. And Mr. Lazio responded. "Mrs. Clinton, you of all people shouldn't try to make guilt by association. Newt Gingrich isn't running in this race. I'm running in this race. Let's talk about my record." He's right. As exciting a match-up as Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Gingrich would make, it is indeed Rick Lazio who is running for Senate. And after his excellent performance Wednesday night, that should have Mrs. Clinton running scared.

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