- The Washington Times - Monday, December 8, 2003

Anyone’s who still trying to figure out what Hillary Clinton is up to just hasn’t been paying attention. Rodham or not, she’s every inch a Clinton.

If you distract the eye with the right hand, no one will notice you poisoning the pie with the left. No one knows how to do it better than Bill and Hillary.

Fresh from her holiday badwill tour of Baghdad, where she tried to plant doubts and sow fear in the khaki ranks, the senator from Gotham rushed to the Sunday television interview shows to turn one of her other cheeks.

It’s called keeping your options open, the options being (1) one for Hillary, and (2) the other for Hillary. If the Clintons find 2004 uncongenial for the Restoration, they mean to make the year worthless for everyone else. That keeps 2008 in play. Howard Dean and Dick Gephardt are entitled to a private pout, but that’s politics, as taught by the Clintons.

Mzz Clinton was entitled to a pout, too, at least a little one, after she went all the way to Iraq to get her picture taken with the men (and women) in the ranks, and all she got for it was an up close and personal view of George W. Bush serving Thanksgiving dinner to his fighting men. That might as well have been her on the platter, a crispy turkey with drumsticks aglow, surrounded by sweet potatoes and cornbread dressing. (But if you think all the bad luck was Hillary’s, consider the GIs assigned to join her in the chow line. GIs on the scene say the invitation to dine with the president was regarded as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity; the invitation to sup with the senator was a soldier’s duty.)

The senator used the opportunity not to raise troop morale, but to bash the commander in chief at the expense of his troops. “The obstacles and problems are much greater than the administration usually admits to,” she told them. This bit of morale-builder is of a piece with the liberal mantra: “We support our troops; we just don’t support what they’re doing.” It hardly makes sense, logically or otherwise, to warn that the potion is poison but applaud the hand that administers it. The Democrats don’t mean a word of it, but the president’s critics imagine that it gives them sufficient cover to then say whatever they want. Criticizing the president is not only a senator’s right, of course, but a responsibility. The battlefield is just not the place to do it.

No one has ever described the Clintons as a class act — many Bubbas are classy, but not this one, and not his moll. Congressmen have been posing as neutral inspectors on these battlefield visits since the Revolutionary War. Visiting congressmen drove Lincoln’s generals half crazy, and that was before the day of the photo-op. (Mathew Brady could only be in one place at a time, and he preferred the company of corpses to congressmen.) In the event, the congressional visitor is cosseted like a VIP and accompanied by an escort who takes him (or her) only to safely sanitized places. Nobody is going to learn anything important in 24 or 36 hours; that’s not the point of the congressional visit.

Nevertheless, the press and tube often treat the returning congressional visitor as if he’s a newly minted expert, and the public is expected to regard what he says as revealed wisdom. Since Mzz Clinton did her bashing on the battlefield, when she got home she sang new words to her tune. She talked tough, like a hawk with a newly hardened nose, dispensing military sagacity as if she was sure she knew what she was talking about: “We need more troops, and we need a different mix of troops. Whether you agreed or not that we should be in Iraq, failure is not an option.”

Mzz Clinton has the family gift for saying two things at once, and she’s clearly well coached at home. Disappointing the hate-Bush wellsprings in her party by talking semi-sensibly about the war after first engaging in Bush-bashing carries no risk for her; she knows that she could get into the race this morning and lap the field, doubling up Howard Dean. Al Gore’s betrayal of Joe Lieberman in behalf of Howard Dean doesn’t change anything.

Trashing George W. in Iraq and giving him support, as mild as she can make it, keeps the Democrats unsettled and yearning for her. Not this year, she insists, and though it’s never going to be too late for her, maybe she means it. What is clear is that if it’s not this year, she and ol’ Bill will do whatever has to be done to keep the road to 2008 dry and clear.

Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.

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