Fund-raisers on the left and right are salivating now that Sen. Hillary Clinton has declared, "I'm in" the 2008 presidential race. On the left, feminists will likely hail her as the reincarnation of suffragette Susan B. Anthony. On the right, conservatives will portray her as a cross between Lady Macbeth and Bonnie Parker.
Conservatives should be careful. The nonstop attacks on Bill Clinton did not keep him from winning in 1992, nor did his personal scandals prevent his re-election four years later. Using similar smear tactics on Hillary Clinton will only turn her into a victim and cause many not predisposed to vote for her to support her.
Men can't run against a woman the way they run against other men. Former Republican Congressman Rick Lazio learned the double standard voters apply to a female candidate when he challenged her in 2000 for the New York Senate seat she now holds. During a debate, Lazio left his lectern and invaded her personal space to make a point. Many voters saw a man trying to physically intimidate a woman and Lazio lost the debate and the election.
Some conservative Web sites are already claiming Sen. Clinton will unite the Republican base like no other Democratic candidate. Maybe, but that base is too small to counter what surely will be a surge in female voters. A recent USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll found that six out of 10 women were likely to support Clinton in her run for the White House.
A major advantage for Republicans is that Hillary is not her husband. She is aloof and calculating, while he can be warm and engaging. We have seen his temper - most recently in an interview with Fox's Chris Wallace - but we have only heard about hers. Will the public accept this kind of behavior from a woman who wants to be president? Will such behavior be seen as strength or character weakness?
In an interview with the London Sunday Times, Clinton's campaign manager, Terry McAuliffe, compared her to former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. "Their policies are totally different," McAuliffe said, "but they are both perceived as very tough." Hillary Clinton and Margaret Thatcher are as different as Phyllis Schlafly and Gloria Steinem. Toughness in the pursuit of bad ideas is as unhelpful as weakness in pursuit of good ones.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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