ImageDonna Brazile is a nationally syndicated columnist and a political commentator on CNN, NBC and NPR. She was also Al Gore’s campaign manager in 2000, when he ran for the presidency.In a recent article, “It’s All up to Al” [1], Miss Brazile touted Al Gore as the Great White Hope of the Democratic Party – indeed, of the country – if only he will throw his (earth-toned) hat in the ring and go for the presidency again. Miss Brazile seems to believe Al is the only one capable of stopping Hillary’s freight-train campaign from taking the nomination.

Miss Brazile all but calls Al Gore the greatest man on the planet – a “moral leader [who] …has proven that climate change matters”. She praises his selfless work, which “…transcends politics – or at least the current variety being served to the American people… loaded down with finger-pointing, whining, distortions and partisan bickering”.

I’ll admit that I had to fight down some nausea to read her paeans of praise for the man who has won a Nobel, an Oscar, an Emmy and a Grammy – for doing what, exactly? Making a nice living scaring us to death over something scientists can’t agree is actually happening and can’t say what is causing it, if it is. Al is an upscale version of the street-corner prophet holding a “The End is Near” sign. (But I digress.)

All this is perhaps to be expected from the woman who came within an eyelash of putting Al Gore in the White House in 2000. Miss Brazile correctly notes that her candidate won every primary, his party’s nomination, and the popular vote, nation-wide. To her credit, she casts no aspersions on the electoral system or on the final electoral tally, which gave Mr. Bush Florida’s twenty electoral votes (and the presidency) by just 500 votes, state-wide.

No, there is none of that. Miss Brazile is all about Al Gore. By way of touting him, she contrasts his real experience, as “…an integral member of the team that gave the nation record-setting prosperity with a budget surplus that we can now only dream about”, with Hillary Clinton’s “White House experience”. Miss Brazile describes the latter as “much touted by the candidate though often questioned and maligned”. (Damned, with faint praise, as it were.)

I found Miss Brazile’s attitude toward Senator Clinton’s candidacy remarkable, for she is a Yellow Dog Democrat as ever was. It must be clear to her and most Democrats that Mrs. Clinton is sweeping irresistibly on to the Democratic nomination. The mainstream media are obviously helping Mrs. Clinton by ignoring her less attractive traits and soft-balling her “message” of …what? No one can say for sure, but she is lining up support and raising money like crazy. Miss Brazile’s personal alliance with Mr. Gore aside, why would she not be cheering Hillary on? Like the (yellow) dog that didn’t bark in the night, that is the curious thing.

My perception is that Miss Brazile – much more of a political insider and electoral swami than this benighted writer – realizes the truth that Democrats dare not speak: that for all her high-powered, super-organized campaign, glitzy connections, big money, and famous Bill, Hillary might not be electable. She might (as they say in the ‘hood) be totin’ too much baggage to be acceptable to a majority (even an electoral majority) of the American people. Thus – again, the world according to me – Miss Brazile and other faithful Dems are desperately grasping for a way to stop Mrs. Clinton before she grabs the nomination and dooms the party to another disastrous defeat. That defeat might not just be for the top office, but for control of the Congress as well.

By my reckoning, Mrs. Clinton’s weakness goes beyond the “baggage” of Bill, Monica, the bimbo-eruptions, the final-day pardons, pilfering the White House china, and letting Osama bin Laden slip away. I see her campaign posture as fundamentally deceptive on several counts:

(1)    Political positioning. Mrs. Clinton correctly sees that an honestly leftist, anti-war candidacy simply cannot win. Thus, she has tried mightily to position herself as mainstream, centrist and pro-military. Thus far, it is difficult to see where she stands on difficult issues like illegal immigration and the war on terror, as she has seemed to be on both sides of them. Of Social Security, Mrs. Clinton recently said that she sees no “crisis”. Is she kidding? When Bill was president, she agreed that the hoary New Deal relic needed fixing. No, she’s just trying to avoid grappling with a controversial issue. Whether the triangulation/avoidance stratagem will work is unclear. It’s a long, long time from now to next November. Maybe she can bob and weave all that time. We’ll see. She doesn’t need to fool all of the people all the time – just 50.1% of them until November 2008.

(2)    Persona. Mrs. Clinton is so irredeemably strident and school-marmish on the stump that she has all but given up trying to project the persona of a friendly, intelligent, bright-eyed, attractive woman. Her much-lampooned cleavage-offensive – to project a more “feminine” image – crashed like a cement blimp. Even when she appears at an all-female gathering, like Wellesley College (her old Alma Mater), she comes off less as caring woman and more as militant feminist. (High numbers of men say they would kill themselves rather than be married to her.) Her palliative is to encourage voters to think of Bill, instead of her, in the White House. It’s the old two-for-the-price-of-one offer, first vetted in 1992 when Mrs. Clinton was running for “co-president”. Will it work again? We’ll see.

(3)    Toughness. Mrs. Clinton has tried to define herself as a tough, bold leader who can throw a punch and take a punch. As the first female candidate for the presidency, she was bound to do that. Perfectly understandable. She can throw a punch, all right, but when she gets hit with tough questions, she sometimes reverts to female wiles like nervous laughter. In some television interviews she has basically laughed questions off without answering them. And when fellow candidates Barak Obama and John Edwards scored her two-sided answers on New York drivers’ licenses for illegal immigrants, she boo-hooed to her Wellesley audience that those mean old men were “ganging up on a woman”. (How tough is that?) It’s difficult to visualize a male candidate using the “hee-haw” or the “poor little me” tactic.

(4)    All New! The Clinton campaign is beating the drum very hard on the idea that her presidency will be a blast of “fresh air” after the stale, “discredited” ideas of the Bush presidency. Of course, every candidate says that about the current administration – especially if it’s the opposite party. But when the drum-beating and the brass band stop, it’s hard to see anything really new: Pull out of Iraq? Fight the “real war” against terror? Get all the bad guys together to talk nice? Form a “multi-lateral consensus” on terrorism? Raise taxes on the “rich”? Get the economy moving? Keep jobs in America? Take care of “the children”? More money for education? Universal healthcare? Et-cetera, et-cetera. The contradictions of several of these planks remain unexamined by voters who hear only the buzzwords they want to hear. Meanwhile, the same old gang of party hacks from Bill’s presidency waits in the wings to push New Deal nostrums that are 75 years out of date.

(5)    The Warrior. Mrs. Clinton’s most determined campaign effort has been to project herself as a tough-minded, fearless, pragmatic military commander-in-waiting. She has hung semi-tough on the war in Iraq, defying her anti-war base, by saying the troops must stay to finish the job and can’t come home immediately. My view is that the election may well hinge on the single issue of competent war-leadership. Mrs. Clinton might easily win the Democratic nomination by pleasing the anti-war left, but she might then lose the general election if centrist voters identify her with defeatism. Mrs. Clinton is not stupid. She knows this. Nevertheless, it is hard for her to shake her ingrained political impulse to triangulate on the war. She still speaks out of both sides of her mouth, depending on who she thinks is listening. Watch for her waffling on this to get more and more press coverage as we get nearer to the Iowa Caucuses and the real primaries. It is going to be very hard to look strong and decisive on things military if she is repeatedly caught being both “for” and “against” the war.

(6)    Business and Labor. Mrs. Clinton’s posture here is perhaps the most deceptive and confusing of all. She makes a great show of wanting to “work with” business to solve the country’s problems. She seems to be at odds with organized labor some of the time – e.g., her chief strategist Mark Penn’s work with PR firm Burson-Marsteller, which helps corporations stop union organizing drives – while she cozies up to union leaders. Her leftist, anti-business bias occasionally surfaces, as when she told the DNC she wants to take profits from oil companies and “put them into a strategic energy fund.” Bill Clinton was called “unprincipled” because he sometimes opposed his core constituencies for political advantage – as in the welfare reform of 1996 to secure his re-election. Is Mrs. Clinton the same? Time will tell, but I advise business to be wary of her. She might still be a leftist in sheep’s clothing.

(7)    Illegal Immigration. This has become the new “third rail” of American politics. (Touch it, and you die.) It is not accidental that Mrs. Clinton is on both sides of it, but refuses to take hold of it directly. The unusual thing was that she let her ambivalence be seen on national TV during the recent debate made famous (or infamous) for the “piling on” story. In truth, the American people are also ambivalent about the issue. I think many Americans join me in understanding, completely, why any poor Mexican would use any means possible to enter the USA, where his family can have a future. At the same time, our fundamental sense of fairness is offended by a large-scale political/business effort to reward what is essentially illegal conduct.

These are some of the “dice” the Democratic Party is preparing to roll with respect to Mrs. Clinton’s candidacy for the 2008 election. Miss Brazile seems to be among a company of insider-Democrats who fear those dice might come up craps. They’re looking for another shooter.

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[1] See Miss Brazile’s article at http://www.knoxnews.com/news/2007/oct/24/its-all-up-to-gore/