THE SPINE MAY 5, 2008
Everybody knows that Hillary plays rough, and this morning's New York Times tells you now that she is also ruthless. Down in the body of the story there's a little riff from one Max Brantley, "an old friend of the Clintons from Arkansas," in which he contrasts Hill and Bill. "He never stops trying to convert people. She's much more clear-eyed, recognizing the imperfectability of people." So that's her calculation: if you disagree with her you are a sinner.
This ruthlessness is also a promise about how she'd behave in office. She doesn't sign her autograph on red boxing gloves for nothing. It is apparently she, not the vindicative James Carville (he who called Bill Richardson Judas), who coined the phrase "war room" to fit the concept. But, as George Bush has shown, you can perform many deceitful acts and still lose in the body politic.
The leader also inspires followers. How's this for civilized political discourse? "She makes Rocky Balboa look like a pansy," said one of her endorsers, Governor Michael F. Easley. I thought we Democrats don't talk like that any more. Or another revealing citation, this one from a labor leader also endorsing Hillary, praising her "testicular fortitude." My God, and I had just about stopped using the word "seminal."
This degradation of discourse and behavior is part and parcel of her attempt at appearing like what she thinks of as common. Is this the learning she envisions in "It Takes a Village"? It certainly isn't what she called eons ago "the politics of meaning."
Of course, the common is for Mrs. Clinton a complete sham. I'd bet the only people she dines with in New York (and she does dine, not munch) are folk who have at least $50 million bucks. And her designer pants suits are not bought at Target or, let alone, Wal-Mart, although she did serve on its board when no one on the payroll had health insurance.
But it's not only that she wants to project humble origins and vulgate speech (had you ever witnessed her do that before?). It's also that she wants the voters of Indiana (and North Carolina) to grasp that she is not impressed by professional economists. No, not she. An article on the front page of Monday's Boston Globe reports that she has now made the summer suspension of the gasoline tax the cornerstone of her campaign. Forget about the fact that the president won't hear from it (so it's a moot question), even though it might help John McCain. The truth is that, as George Stephanopolous pointed out, no credible economist backed her plan to lift the 18.5 cent federal tax on gas. She got huffy: "I'm not going to put my lot with economists, because I know if we did it right...it would be implemented effectively." And then more and more arrogant: "We've got to get out of this mind-set where somehow elite (ah, yes, that terrible elite again) opinion is always on the side of doing things that really disadvantage the vast majority of Americans." Why doesn't she say outright that she wants to instill paranoia in the American people? Another Rosa Luxemburg, perhaps?
The one strength that Hillary might have carried with her is that her husband's administration had competent, no, brilliant and inventive people in its stewardship of the economy. Larry Summers, for instance, and Robert Rubin. But she is now a populist, a vulgar populist. Maybe we'll be hearing from William Jennings Bryan about the "cross of gold" one century after.
So Mrs. Clinton like panaceas, which are almost always fibs. Obama has been criticized for being a bit vague in he economic program, and perhaps he has been. But he doesn't tell lies.