It occurs to me that if an English-speaking Martian were to visit our nation for a short while, he might reasonably conclude that Hillary Clinton and John McCain were engaging in a bipartisan contest to become President Bush's chief nemesis and general thorn in the side.
At the risk of irritating some McCainiacs and liberals I should point out that a couple of other things the two Senatorial irritants have in common are that they both aspire to the presidency and neither has a very realistic prospect of attaining it. Don't get me wrong; I don't underestimate Hillary or her capacity for self-advancement. But I just happen to believe that when she occupies various roles of power, as opposed to that of a victimized spouse, she makes herself transparently and abundantly unlikable. It happened with her health care scheme and will probably happen for the next six years as New York's senior Junior Senator. She is an irrepressible ideologue whose liberalism is unpalatable to the electorate at large.
Hillary is already stumping as if she were Minority Leader of the Senate, and George Bush is in her opportunistic sights. Last week Hillary blasted Bush for proposing cuts in children's health programs to help finance his $1.6 trillion tax cut. She called the "cuts" unacceptable. Never mind that Bush's recommended reductions in the rate of increase on spending for these items are not cuts. Also never mind that Bush is actually recommending real increases in education spending, Medicare and for the National Institutes of Health.
The more important point, though, is that Hillary doesn't bother to explain how she and her cohorts can criticize Bush for fiscal irresponsibility when they refuse to restrain their own limitless governmental spending. But the facts don't matter; grandstanding is what's important, especially when you are aiming for the White House.
Hillary stepped up her attacks on Bush over the weekend. In pure Clinton-speak, she charged that he was trying "to turn back the clock 50 or 60 years." Bush doesn't just want to turn the clock back on the sainted Clinton administration, Hillary complained, but "back on the Roosevelt administration." (If I were Bush, I would take that as a compliment, even though that's not the spirit in which Hillary delivered it.)
Hillary castigated Bush for his "flip-flop" on his campaign pledge to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions and for blocking oppressive ergonomic standards forced through by Clinton in his final days. I say kudos to Bush for both, even if the first involved a change of mind since the campaign. At least when this Bush changes his mind, it's in a more conservative direction; and trust me, he'll never get in much trouble that way.
These two incidents of Hillary assuming center stage to attack Bush are just a foreshadowing of what we can expect over the coming months and years. She's on a mission; a mission that has been in the offing for years and is just now coming into full bloom.
Senator McCain is flanking Bush from the other side of the aisle, but no less effectively and systematically. While Bush is trying to get his tax package through, McCain is obsessing (and trying to force every other senator to obsess) on campaign finance "reform." Putting aside the fact that McCain-Feingold is flagrantly unconstitutional and political suicide for McCain's fellow Republicans, it is not an urgent matter like the tax-cut package, unless you define urgency as McCain's desire to steal the limelight from Bush.
Beyond his pet issue, McCain is undermining Bush's agenda in other areas as well, all while professing to be his good friend. Whether or not McCain ends up running for the presidency in 2004, he is otherwise doing his best to reduce Bush's chances at re-election. McCain has criticized Bush's tax package as too large, and he is at odds with the administration on gun control and legislation concerning a patients' bill of rights.
Hillary and the Democrats are trying to steal Bush's momentum, and McCain and other liberal Republican senators are providing an assist. While Bush is being attacked from all sides, it is important that conservatives stick with him, lest his entire agenda be diluted beyond recognition.
Meanwhile Bush remains focused and is not allowing those without a mandate (Democrats or McCain) to divert his attention from his agenda. Though Bush faces many obstacles, he is developing a lasting relationship with his conservative base. That's exactly as it ought to be. Hang in there, Dubya.