August 25th, 2007

Hillary Clinton, Having Echoed Bush on the Surge, Now Echoes Rudy Giuliani on Terror

by Philip Baruth

For whatever reason, Hillary Clinton’s relatively charmed campaign has just recently begun to feel the frontrunner’s media hex: over the last month or so, she has been dramatically wrong-footed on more than one occasion, issuing more denials and explanations than she’d had to do in the previous year.

hillary, obama, spat

First there was the odd defense of lobbyist money at YearlyKos; a few days ago she was caught on tape telling an audience of veterans that Bush’s Surge “is working” — then claimed to have been misquoted, a counter-claim the transcript quickly knocked down.

Today the story in question surfaced in the New York Post, and Clinton’s quote has been roiling the blogosphere all afternoon. The relevant portion of the article:

“It’s a horrible prospect to ask yourself, ‘What if? What if?’ But if certain things happen between now and the election, particularly with respect to terrorism, that will automatically give the Republicans an advantage again, no matter how badly they have mishandled it, no matter how much more dangerous they have made the world,” Clinton told supporters in Concord.

“So I think I’m the best of the Democrats to deal with that,” she added.

Let’s face facts: all of us on the Left have had a conversation, in the run-up to 2004 or 2006, in which we bit our nails over much the same thing. An attack on the Sears Tower two weeks before the 2006 election might theoretically have saved the Republican majority.

So that’s not in dispute: Democrats fear that Republicans will immediately capitalize on any terrorist incident, and demagogue the issue for personal, electoral gain.

What is in dispute is the efficacy, or the ethics, of touting this potential dynamic as a potential nominee of the Democratic Party. If you read the quote carefully, Hillary is saying, in effect, “Republicans control the terrorism brand, and I am best positioned to wrest that brand from them.”

Why Hillary is so positioned remains unarticulated. Maybe the thinking is that since she has positioned herself closest to the GOP on military issues, she would benefit from an attack to some extent as well.

hillary supports surge

Maybe it’s more a revision of her “Bill and I have beat them before” pitch: no attack from the GOP — even one on their signature issue — will catch the Clinton team napping.

But whatever Hillary meant by the aside, it strikes a very odd note. First, why advertise the GOP’s putative advantage? Why portray it as the common wisdom?

Second, this marks perhaps the first time that a Democratic Presidential candidate has attempted to coopt the Republicans not merely on terrorism, but on security fear-mongering, because we don’t see any other way to read this, finally.

What else to call it when a candidate for President says, in sum, “A terrorist attack may well happen before the election, in which case, you’d best have me in the saddle.”

That’s Rudy Giuliani’s pitch, in a nutshell. Sure, Clinton has thrown in an additional dynamic or frill — because the GOP can’t be trusted should an attack happen, and because the public is just weak enough to turn to them, you’d better plan ahead and nominate me — but the central equation is very, very familiar.

It’s a scary world. So cover your ass: Vote Clinton.

And really, when you strip it down, that’s the subtext of Clinton’s campaign since the get-go: I can co-opt Republican ideas, rhetoric, positions, and at the same time turn back and top their nastiest attacks.

I’m your them, in short.

Which brings you, on the other hand, to the now nearly unified messages of Obama and Edwards. Edwards delivered a very razor-edged speech yesterday, referring obliquely to Clinton as a “corporate Democrat,” while Obama parried Clinton’s attack on his experience a few months back by calling her approach “Bush/Cheney lite.”

It’s no accident that the other two candidates in the top tier have settled on that message. Hillary’s climbing poll numbers over the last month have led her, inch by inch, to begin the sort of triangulation she very clearly plans to negotiate the minute she has the nomination in hand.

God and terrorism and war, with a promise of “improved” rather than universal health care, and that only in the sweet bye and bye: that is what we’ll hear from Clinton should she sweep the February 5th super-primary.

Which is upon us in less than six months.

For those of you who have been sitting on the sidelines, pulling your lip meditatively, and certainly you know who you are, it’s time to choose. Choose and then put your back into it.

Because by the time the snow really flies, your back won’t matter any more.