Jewish World Review June 10, 2003 / 10 Sivan 5763
The 'Industry of Hillary' raises bucks for both sides
I don't know whether Hillary Rodham Clinton would make a good president, although the question does not trouble me much.
After all, her husband and his successor offer two excellent examples of how quickly long-shot amateurs can get the hang of the job once they have it.
But I roll my eyes in disbelief that some people actually scoff at the possibility of a Hillary candidacy, let alone a Hillary presidency. She has surprised her doubters and naysayers before and she is quite capable of doing it again.
As far as the nomination of her party is concerned, she's the brightest star on a rather dim horizon at this early stage of the game.
First, don't be fooled by the many conservative voices spewing against Hillary from certain newspaper columns, radio chatter shows and cable TV news outlets as though she were a witch reincarnated. In contrast to that cacophony of conservative rage, polls show the true silent majority to be more evenhanded.
A June USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll found Americans to be split evenly: 43 percent held a favorable opinion of Hillary and 43 percent unfavorable.
By contrast, other Democratic contenders need to put their faces on the sides of milk cartons for all of the public recognition they've generated. Two-thirds of the public could not name a single Democratic presidential candidate in a May CBS/New York Times poll.
The most recognizable name in the bunch was Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who still benefits from running with Al Gore in 2000.
No, before I judge a candidate, I look first to who does not want me to vote for a particular candidate. Don't be fooled by the orgy of fury and fulminations that conservative commentators have riled up against Hillary's re-emergence into the public spotlight. If she didn't have a chance to win, one should ask, why are so many people so fired up against her?
"Stop Hillary Now!" countered a recent fundraising letter from Virginia Sen. George Allen, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. "We all know she covets the presidency and is only using her time in the U.S. Senate as a steppingstone ... We can't let her set the national agenda and go unimpeded in her race to get back to the White House."
As her book tour gets underway, so will Allen's office, spokespeople say, riding Hillary's publicity buzz to raise money for Republicans.
Yes, anyone who talks about Hillary's $8 million advance for her new book, "Living History," also needs to talk about the bigger money that people, whether for her or against her, are raising because of her.
She knows the value of her own notoriety on the political right. She's a star draw for Democrats who need a big name to sell tables at fundraisers. Her political action committee, HILLPAC, has raised a reported $3.2 million over the past two years. She has given $1 million of it to Democrats across the country, significantly including candidates in the early nominating states of Iowa and New Hampshire, according to an analysis by The Hill, a Capitol Hill newspaper.
In short, she's a lightning rod, generating passion on both sides. This political season seems curiously devoid of passion among the announced Democratic candidates, except for long shots like the Rev. Al Sharpton or Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, who inflamed the party's base but have the least chance of crossing over to the mainstream middle, the real battleground that each party needs to win the White House.
Hillary Clinton has a solid base in her favor as well as against her. That leaves the folks in the middle for her to win. She will do it in the patient, deliberate way that she won votes in New York State, county by county, learning the public's issues at the grass roots and using her knowledge about the issues against her overconfident Republican opponent, then-Congressman Rick Lazio.
Now detractors groan about her new book in which she recounts a tantalizing version of her agonies during the Monica Lewinsky affair. It offers gripping emotion ("I could hardly breathe. ... I wanted to wring Bill's neck ...") without telling us anything of substance that's new.
But if she runs in 2008, as many of her close friends and supporters expect and especially if Bush is re-elected in 2004, the book puts the Lewinsky story out in the public eye early and lets Hillary deal with it now so that she can later dismiss further questions as old news.
By then, Democrats might be hungry enough, as they were in 1992 after 12 years in the political wilderness, to rally around the most visible figure on the Democratic horizon. Hillary very well might be it.
As President Bush might say, don't "misunderestimate" her.
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