- The Washington Times - Friday, January 25, 2008

Life in the Gelded Age won’t ever be exciting for the red-blooded among us — the meat-eating men and women who sup on ham, ram and lamb and dine on bull, beef and bear — but the manly thing to do is make the best of it.

We finally get the makings of a first-rate presidential campaign, with the marketing men, consultants and focus groups shoved aside, and if you believe what you read in the newspapers and see on television, everyone is in a panic to find a fainting couch. Adjectives like “unprecedented” and “novel” and “raw” are drafted to describe the back-and-forth between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Actually, there are precedents aplenty. You could find meaner stuff in an election for president of the Ladies Aid Society at the Methodist church. Politics, particularly presidential politics, always has been a smash-mouth game of tackle football, with neither pads nor helmets. Bill Clinton says this is his last campaign unless he runs for school board in the distant future; if he does the Volvo-and-beansprout folk are warned to avert their eyes.

So far this year we haven’t seen anybody’s mouth smashed. Ed Rollins, the campaign manager for Mike Huckabee, a Baptist pastor who confronted meaner deacons than anyone he has seen in South Carolina, threatened to reduce Mitt Romney’s dental work to ruins. But he insists he was only speaking “metaphorically.” We’re even a little confused about who’s actually running. It’s Clinton vs. Obama, but not necessarily between the senators. Bill has taken over for his missus, and now Michelle Obama has taken up the fight for her senator. “The one thing that is clear is that when power is confronted with real change, they will say anything,” she told an audience at the Lazy Goat Grill in Greenville, S.C. What? Politicians will say anything? Candidates will distort each other’s records? Well, duh. Even goats know better.

Hillary offered a stout defense of Bill for saying that Mr. Obama had put a “hit job” on him. She was eager to lob lady-like pies and cream puffs. “We’re in a very heated campaign and people are coming out and saying all kinds of things,” she said. “I’m out there every day making a positive case and I have a lot of wonderful people, including my husband, who are out there making the case for me.”

As charge-and-countercharge goes, this is cream of broccoli soup. Once upon a time not so long ago only a hearty beef stew or a robust bowl of red could warm a wintry afternoon on the trail. Bill Clinton, who learned politics in Arkansas, where the Marquis of Queensbury was just another French wussy, does not try to hide his glee. He never thought his campaign for a third term could be so much fun.

Like nearly all pols, the Clintons no less than Barack Obama retreat with yelps to play the victim when tough stuff is aimed at them. But when the issue is in doubt, or it’s time to move in for the kill, the ex-prez will revert to original form, and run for president as if running for governor. In his final campaign for governor in the land of the magic huckleberry, Bill dispatched Hillary to break up his opponent’s announcement press conference, to pester with pointed questions and generally make a spectacle of herself. The next morning it was Hillary on the front page, crowding the hapless opponent off the stage, page and out of the story. He never recovered.

It’s clear that the Clinton strategy is to accentuate the Obama negatives, such as they may turn out to be. Emphasizing the senator’s Muslim middle name — Hussein — is infuriating, but it’s accurate and hardly an insult. The senator is still in a lather because Bill Clinton called his record on opposition to the Iraq war “a fairy tale.” Whatever it was it wasn’t worthy of Hans Christian Andersen, but the description quickly became “racist.” Overnight our first black president became our first formerly black president. The ghost of the Gipper still hangs about, frightening the ladies and scaring Democratic horses. “The fact that Hillary has praised Ronald Reagan … just underscores that she will say or do anything to get elected,” an Obama flack declared. Oh dear. The shame of it all.

Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.

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