Clinton needs to be treated as real threat

By Mona Charen: Syndicated Columnist

There are a great many Republicans who laugh when you suggest that Hillary Clinton is the likely Democratic nominee in 2008. Their incredulity only deepens if you intimate that she could win. They are so vehement in their detestation of all things Clinton that the idea seems almost kooky to them.

That is the first myth John Podhoretz seeks to puncture in his highly informative and lively call to arms, “Can She Be Stopped?”

Yes, it’s true; Hillary would enter the race burdened by a 40 percent disapproval number. But Podhoretz argues that in today’s polarized climate, any nominee of either party will wind up with 40 percent of the electorate disliking him/her long before Election Day. In fact, if Hillary’s unpopularity among Republicans leads to frothing attacks on her, it could even work to her advantage as Democrats rally round the object of Republican disdain.

Is she too liberal? Podhoretz argues that she is positioning herself (with a big assist from the liberal media) as a centrist. This explains all of that sweet talk about seeking “common ground on abortion,” talking tough on violence in video games, and most important, voting in favor of the Iraq War and subsequent military appropriations.

These, Podhoretz asserts, are shams. “I submit that the senator is the Trojan Horse and real Hillary is inside, waiting to burst through and alter the course set by George W. Bush.”

But though she is a liberal — her voting record is a near perfect 96 percent from the liberal Americans For Democratic Action — this does not by any means ensure her defeat. Podhoretz reminds us that between them, Ralph Nader and Al Gore received 53.8 million votes, 3 million more than George W. Bush and Pat Buchanan together received in the 2000 election.

Can a woman be elected president? It depends entirely on how womanly she is. I agree with Podhoretz that Hillary’s particular manner — flat, declarative, “steely” — is stylistically just right for (God forbid) the first woman president.

Can the country tolerate four more years of the Clinton soap opera? Podhoretz offers a creative story line in which the older and wiser Clintons profit from scandal fatigue. He poses but does not answer the intriguing question: Can the monumental egotist Bill Clinton accept a supporting role for an entire campaign?

And there is another uncertainty — does Bill Clinton truly and unequivocally want his wife to succeed?

Republicans, of course, are not riding high at the moment. The past year has delivered a series of blows: the slow progress in Iraq; Cindy Sheehan’s virtual canonization by the media; Hurricane Katrina; the Valerie Plame circus; Tom DeLay’s indictment and resignation; and the abortive nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court.

(There was good news as well, but those preparing to defeat Hillary need to correct what went wrong.)

Grass-roots Republicans are dismayed by the big-spending ways of the majority party, and some are appalled that Republicans have not taken a tougher stand on illegal immigration.

Podhoretz pleads with Republicans to resist the temptation to punish their leaders. Acknowledging that the issues raised are important, he nonetheless argues that no election result has yet borne out the idea that illegal immigration is the paramount issue facing America today.

In 2005, Republican Jerry Kilgore attempted to use the issue in his race for governor of Virginia. He lost. So did Jim Gilchrist in a special congressional election in California. True. But in 1994, Proposition 187 won 59 percent of the vote in California. Let’s say the jury’s out. But Podhoretz’s larger point is that Republicans can ill afford a damaging schism on this or any other issue before 2008. The stakes are too high.

If Hillary Clinton is to be kept from the Oval Office, Republicans will need a game plan. Some of the suggestions in “Can She Be Stopped?” are absolutely essential. Example:

Hillary should not be permitted to keep silent on issues that may box her in. Her preferred tactic is to coast to the nomination without having to commit herself. Republicans should demand to hear her views on taxes, on the United Nations, on tort reform, on the Patriot Act, Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, in short, on every conceivable question that will bear on the 2008 race.

Also, if Republicans maintain control of the Senate in 2006, they should force her to vote on controversial resolutions that will further smoke her out as well as force her to choose between the campaign trail and her responsibilities as a senator.

Finally, Podhoretz has a suggestion about whom the Republicans should and should not nominate to oppose her. But I’ll let readers discover that for themselves. Read this book.

Mona Charen writes for Creators Syndicate. She may be contacted through the Web site:
www.creators.com