Carol Platt Liebau: We Want a Fighter, Not a Lover

Friday, January 25, 2008

We Want a Fighter, Not a Lover

Bill Clinton had this to say about his wife:

"She and John McCain are very close. They always laugh that if they wound up being the nominees of their party, it would be the most civilized election in American history, and they're afraid they'd put the voters to sleep because they like and respect each other."

President Clinton isn't saying these things about McCain to hurt him -- although it has that effect with the Republican base, who wants to see someone who will fight hard against Hillary Clinton . . . not a candidate who will participate in a post-millenial love-in with her. Rather, President Clinton knows the country gets a collective shudder thinking of the mudfest that would surely come in a presidential campaign including a Clinton in a tight race. In effect, he's trying to reassure the public that a Hillary ticket doesn't mean a continuation of the ugly campaign being waged against Barack Obama.

Like so much Bill Clinton says, the prospect of a "civilized election" sounds just wonderful until one actually thinks about it. And from the Clintons' perspective, it would be wonderful -- just like the 1996 Clinton-Dole face-off where Bob Dole waited until it was too late before he started campaigning against Clinton with any vigor. Bill Clinton likes and respects Bob Dole, just the way Hillary does John McCain . . . no doubt never more than after he wiped the floor with Dole in the election.

Given McCain's penchant for hooking up with Democrats (like Feingold on campaign finance reform and Kennedy on immigration), it's not hard to believe he "likes and respects" Senator Clinton. The question is not only what that would mean for the country in the wake of a McCain victory -- it also raises the question as to whether it would diminish the vigor of his campaign. Bob Dole's liking for Clinton no doubt played a role in his reticence; later on, Dole even defended Clinton and his record in 1998 when the public was seething over the Monica Lewinsky affair. What is there for Clinton not to like?

On the other hand, does anyone really wonder whether Senator Clinton's purported liking and respect for Senator McCain would stop the Clinton machine from going after him? After all, in 1996, President Clinton went after Dole even when it was already obvious it wasn't necessary for a victory. Hillary Clinton is running to justify her life, and there is nothing that will restrain her from doing anything to win.

Finally, the fact that President Clinton is speaking favorably about a McCain run certainly doesn't play into the conventional wisdom that McCain would be the toughest Republican candidate. The Clintons don't usually give big, wet, sloppy kisses to the competitors they fear, do they? If you're in doubt, just ask Barack Obama.


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