Is Chivalry Shivved?
By MAUREEN DOWD
Hillary Clinton became a senator because men abused her. Her husband humiliated her in public and her opponent, Rick Lazio, hounded her in a debate. She was a sympathetic figure to many voters only after she went from pushy to pushed around.
So John McCain must be wary as he figures out how to push her around. He must slide in the shiv chivalrously.
This week, he managed to attack her three ways in one sentence: as a senator, as a wife and as a future opponent. This raises the question: Is it a smart move, pleasing a base that cringes at stories of these celebrity senators palling around, knocking back drinks on an overseas trip? Or is it a misstep, making Mr. McCain look like a sexist bully for pointedly blaming his fellow senator for her husband’s old policies — and calling her “Mrs. Clinton” just to rub it in?
On a trip to Detroit to campaign for a Republican Senate candidate, Mr. McCain singled out Hillary for a shellacking on North Korea. “I would remind Senator Clinton and other Democrats critical of Bush administration policies that the framework agreement her husband’s administration negotiated was a failure,” he said.
The next morning on CBS’s “The Early Show,” he was asked why he would blame the Clintons for North Korea’s batty behavior.
It’s clear, after all, that the North Koreans are acting immaturely in response to W. acting immaturely. They want attention because the Bush administration inexplicably refuses to talk to them. And they know, in the pre-emptive world ordained by nutty Dick Cheney, that the best way to protect themselves from the fate of Saddam Hussein is to actually go nuclear, rather than merely fantasizing and boasting about it.
But the Republicans love to blame Bill Clinton for everything, from the radioactive Congressional page explosion to the radioactive North Korean explosion.
Mr. McCain told Hannah Storm that he “was responding to attacks made on President Bush by Mrs. Clinton, Senator Kerry, Senator Reid and other Democrats.” Hillary advisers noted that she was called “Mrs.” while the others were called “Senator.”
Just as the male Republican front-runner, known for a short fuse, must be careful how he attacks the female Democratic front-runner, the former first lady must be careful how she attacks the war hero.
If she doesn’t respond forcefully, she’s not fit for the alpha chair in the Oval; if she responds too forcefully, the Republicans will try to paint her as an angry harridan who would nag us to death, or go all hypersensitive on us.
“It hurts her when she gets in a defensive crouch on her husband’s record,” a McCain adviser said.
Clearly, the missus does not think so. Billary has their 2008 war room running and finger-wagging. Just as they teamed up recently to punch back when Condi and Bush boosters accused Bill of being lax with Al Qaeda before 9/11, Hillary swiftly rebutted the charge that Bill was lax with North Korea, calling it “ridiculous.”
Privately, Hillary’s camp was not overly upset by the McCain swipe because it suspected he was doing the bidding of the White House and that he ended up, as one adviser put it, “looking similar to the way he did on those captive tapes from Hanoi, where he recited the names of his crew mates.” Besides, Senator Clinton does like to cruise on her husband’s coattails and remind Americans that the economy was exploding and the world wasn’t.
Hillary’s people think she’s better off tying herself to les bon-temps-roulez Bill years than Mr. McCain is tying himself to the war-without-end W. years. “It’s bad enough that he strapped himself to a broken Acme rocket on Iraq and the economy, now he’s strapping himself on North Korea,” said one. “People were enamored of his independence, but now he just seems like Bush’s windup toy, the obedient corporal.”
Linking to W. may become even more problematic if Republicans lose the House next month, and Democrats begin a lollapalooza of investigations into W.’s economic policies, Katrina management methods, Iraq military plan and Iraq reconstruction record.
But Hillary and her first lad have their work cut out for them in trying to take out a popular war hero, according to Mark Halperin and John Harris, authors of “The Way to Win: Taking the White House in 2008.”
“Our sense right now,” Mr. Halperin says, “is that McCain would beat any Democrat including Hillary Clinton, and Clinton would beat any Republican except for McCain.”