- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Clinton and Obama campaigns are raising money, denouncing President. Bush, bashing each other and vying for media exposure — all for a presidential race that doesn’t officially start for another year. What is going on here?

Some pundits say Sen. Hillary Clinton “fears” Sen. Barack Obama, so she wants to derail his candidacy early. Others say she is furious that he disrupted her “coronation”: a triumphal sweep through America, and onward to the White House in January 2009.

Good stories, but the 2008 election is still 20 months off. Even if Mrs. Clinton is worried about the Obama-threat, why not just wait until the primary? He might self-destruct.

The answer is the Clinton Signature Style: Domination (of the media). Bill and Hillary don’t want to be in the news. They want to be The News — to so completely suck the air out of the room that other candidates’ messages will suffocate. When the primaries arrive, no one else will come to voters’ minds. The Clintons will be it.

But I believe the media fixation on Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama goes deeper. Big media — generally sympathetic to Democratic candidates — are protective of both the Clinton and Obama campaigns. Brawls between their camps over trivial issues make fine diversions to mask a closer candidate-inspection media don’t want. Why not? Because both candidates are so weak. In Gertrude Stein’s words: “There’s no there there.

True, both are senators. But political analysts say the Senate is not good preparation for the presidency because its members are “minor potentates” of obeisant satrapies, not executives. Senators posture, criticize, make speeches, demand answers and pass laws, but are seldom held accountable for results.

Governors are better prepared for the presidency because they are CEOs. In the popular image, CEOs sit around giving orders and firing people. But in the real (political) world they schmooze, flatter, encourage, bribe and sometimes kick butt to get action.

Both candidates are rather new senators, so perhaps the office has not defined them. But that short tenure also means very thin resumes. In two years, Mr. Obama has achieved not much. Eight years in the Illinois Senate also produced little. His “fresh” positions on issues are fuzzy.

Young people say they like Mr. Obama, but when I ask what they like about his positions, none can bring them to mind. “He… ah… he seems so bright,” said one woman. “He speaks so well.”

True. He is bright, and a great-looking guy. But he’s running for president — not the Music Man or the head hunk of Baywatch. Sen. Joseph Biden got scolded for calling Mr. Obama bright, clean and articulate. Critics said he dissed previous black candidates. Maybe, but his true sin was revealing the Great Secret: Barack Obama has no portfolio. Everyone knows it, but you’re not supposed to say so.

Surely, this can’t be said about Mrs. Clinton. Even pre-Senate, she was America’s Smartest Woman. How did she earn that title? Well, she was a top attorney in Little Rock. Hubby was governor. Clients were buying pillow-talk with Arkansas’ Top Banana. She handled the Whitewater deal that bilked Madison Guaranty Savings and Loan — and ultimately the United States — out of millions of dollars. For this she was named one of the country’s top female lawyers?

OK, but wasn’t she Bill’s “co-president”? He asked her to nationalize the country’s health-care system. She and the Dems’ brightest minds labored for months to produce a pile of dung so putrid even the Democratic Congress wouldn’t go near it. She played no role in the ‘96 campaign, hiding out until Bill was safely re-elected.

Mrs. Clinton is a very smart politician: smart enough to avoid Arkansas and head for the friendly liberal climes of New York — a natural haven for politicians of her stripe.

But her six years in the Senate were like Mr. Obama’s two — times three. She’s a sound-biter. Web-bios mention health-care issues she is “working on,” but no signature accomplishments spring out. One of her few achievements — approving the war on terror — now has her crosswise with the antiwar (i.e., dominant) wing of her party. Even liberal comrades seem fatigued by her multiple personas.

Liberal activist and former Democratic congressional aide David Sirota says, “What does Hillary Clinton really represent?’ [It’s] hard to tell.” But she has messiah-potential. Her senatorial mediocrity is overlooked because she is the Party’s Great White Hope.

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are called the Democrats’ “strongest candidates.” They are media stars. They have high name-recognition. If the lid can be kept on what they really are and have done (or not), either could win the presidency.

If Americans don’t unwrap these packages and look inside, they could have rude surprises in ‘09. In ‘92, Bill claimed to be a “new” Democrat. He was — but not a kind we wanted. Hopefully voters are smarter now. Look for candidates of substance to emerge in the months ahead — perhaps in both parties. Abraham Lincoln always said you can’t fool all of the people all the time.


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

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