- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 3, 2001

The 2000 presidential election has been over only 12 weeks OK, make that seven weeks and already Democrats are looking forward to the next one. There are bumper stickers that urge "Re-elect Gore in 2004," but not everyone is keen on the idea of going back to a proven loser, even if he did get the most votes. For those disenchanted with Mr. Gore, there is an obvious alternative: someone named Clinton who has already spent eight years in the White House.

Since being elected to the Senate, Hillary Rodham Clinton has been dogged with questions about whether she has higher aspirations, and I don't mean replacing Kathie Lee Gifford on Regis' talk show. Mrs. Clinton insists she'll serve her full term, but voters with long memories recall that a certain governor of Arkansas made the same promise when running for re-election in 1990 and didn't feel obligated to keep it.

Nearly 40 percent of Americans surveyed in a recent poll think the Belle of Chappaqua is going to be spending a lot more time than the average New Yorker chatting with pig farmers in Iowa. Speaking of which, the Des Moines Register found her running second only to Mr. Gore among Iowa Democrats as their choice to evict the Great Pretender from the White House. She could also pass up running against the incumbent and wait for an open shot in 2008.

Mrs. Clinton has a lot of assets. She is very good at raising money, she has been part of an administration that presided over eight years of economic growth, she represents one of the biggest states in the country, she has played a role in two winning presidential campaigns. And for most of the 1990s, she has been ranked the most admired woman in America.

But even with all this, she is about as likely to become president as she is to take a vow of poverty. Everything she has going for her pales next to all her liabilities some of which are a result of her connection to the 42nd president and some of which would be true even if her name were Hillary Smith.

Start with the latter. Being from New York used to be a huge advantage in running for president, but no more. Because New York is ideologically to the left of the country as a whole, any candidate from there has to overcome the presumption of being too liberal to be elected. Hillary hasn't been trying very hard, probably because her instincts have always been considerably less conservative than those of her husband.

She has other serious disadvantages. In terms of warmth and spontaneity, she makes Al Gore look like Oprah Winfrey. Her public speaking style is wooden and condescending. She responds to inconvenient press questions as if she were the Queen of England being buttonholed by a commoner icily correct but implacably uncooperative.

Unlike her husband, who could spin out fairy tales that were clever enough to be almost plausible, she is prone to mulish stonewalling or answers so ridiculous they would insult the intelligence of a lower primate. When asked the other day about her husband's pardon of Marc Rich, whose ex-wife gave $120,000 in soft money to help her Senate campaign, Hillary replied: "I have no opinion. I had no opinion before. I had no opinion at the time. I have no opinion now."

She wouldn't be in a position to contemplate a presidential race if she weren't married to Bill, but among the broad electorate, that's probably a net minus. What George W. Bush said of being the son of a former president he inherited half of his father's friends and all of his enemies is likely to be doubly true of being the wife of one.

The former first lady will get no credit for most of her husband's achievements (welfare reform, the victory in Kosovo, the budget surplus), because she had nothing to do with them. But she will be blamed for its most conspicuous failure the health-care overhaul that she designed, only to see it voted down by a Democratically controlled Congress.

Hillary will also be tainted with all the ethical controversies that swirled around the Clintons for eight years. And the last one, involving their solicitation of nearly $200,000 in gifts in their final months, reflects even worse on her than on him.

Former presidents are allowed to take troves of gifts; senators are not. So Hillary made sure she got hers before she was sworn in. Her response to criticism of this bonanza was to assert she had followed the law which is another way of saying she did absolutely everything she could get away with.

President Hillary Clinton may inhabit a lot of liberal dreams and conservative nightmares in the coming years. But eventually, we'll all awaken.

Steve Chapman is a nationally syndicated columnist.

Steve Chapman is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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