September 30, 2007

Frank Rich: Is Hillary Clinton the New Old Al Gore?

Filed under: Opinion — Volt @ 6:32 am

Frank Rich, The New York Times, September 30, 2007

Some 13 months before Election Day, the race’s dynamic seems immutable. Americans can’t wait to evict the unpopular president and end his disastrous war. As the campaign’s poll-tested phrasemaking constantly reminds us, voters crave change above all else. That means nearly any Democrat might do, even if the nominee isn’t the first woman, black or Hispanic to lead a major party’s ticket.

The Republican field of aging white guys, meanwhile, gets flakier by the day. The front-runner has taken to cooing to his third wife over a cellphone in the middle of campaign speeches. His hottest challenger, the new “new Reagan,” may have learned his lines for “Law & Order,” but clearly needs cue cards on the stump. In Florida, even the most rudimentary details of red-hot local issues (drilling in the Everglades, Terri Schiavo) eluded him. The party’s fund-raising is anemic. Its snubs of Hispanic and African-American voters kissed off essential swing states in the Sun Belt and moderate swing voters farther north.

So nothing can go wrong for the Democrats. Can it?

Of course it can, and not just because of the party’s perennial penchant for cutting off its nose to spite its face. (Witness the Democratic National Committee’s zeal in shutting down primary campaigning in Florida because the state moved up the primary’s date.) The biggest indicator of potential trouble ahead is that the already-codified Beltway narrative for the race so favors the Democrats. Given the track record of Washington’s conventional wisdom, that’s not good news. These are the same political pros who predicted that scandal would force an early end to the Clinton presidency and that “Mission Accomplished” augured victory in Iraq and long-lasting Republican rule.

The Beltway’s narrative has it not only that the Democrats are shoo-ins, but also that the likely standard-bearer, Hillary Clinton, is running what Zagat shorthand might describe as a “flawless campaign” that is “tightly disciplined” and “doesn’t make mistakes.” This scenario was made official last weekend, when Senator Clinton appeared on all five major Sunday morning talk shows — a publicity coup, as it unfortunately happens, that is known as a “full Ginsburg” because it was first achieved by William Ginsburg, Monica Lewinsky’s lawyer, in 1998.

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