Steve Chapman

Everyone knows Hillary Rodham Clinton, and everyone has a different reaction to her. Some find her as irritating as fingernails on a chalkboard. Some find that she makes their skin crawl. Some run screaming from the room. And some want to drink a gallon of rat poison while lying across a railroad track.

The conventional wisdom is that the former first lady will be a formidable presidential candidate because she has lots of money, veteran campaign aides, a shrewd political sense and a close connection to a president beloved by Democrats. But those may be nothing next to a couple of fairly major factors operating against her.

The first is that many people in both parties see her as ideologically repellent. Conservatives think she's an arrogant busybody with an addiction to big government. The left regards her as a cynical trimmer who can't admit when she's wrong.

The second is that many people, again in both parties, just can't stand her. You want a uniter, not a divider? Hillary has a way of uniting people who ordinarily would be pelting each other with eggs.

That explains the appeal of the new YouTube ad, modeled on Apple's famous "1984" Super Bowl commercial, which portrays her as a blandly sinister Big Sister on a giant screen, uttering phony platitudes to an army of robotic slaves. It ends happily when a blonde female athlete sprints in and hurls a sledgehammer at the screen, obliterating the image.

Though the ad included a plug for Barack Obama (who denies any involvement), it would draw equal ovations if it were shown at a meeting of or The Heritage Foundation. Which raises the question: If the right regards her as a dangerous leftist and the left regards her as an unprincipled accomplice in the Iraq disaster, who really likes her?

It's not as though she warms the hearts of moderates everywhere. Her husband was a master of triangulating between the two poles. But Hillary's efforts to place herself in the sensible center suggest naked opportunism, not hardheaded practicality.

The candidate we all know is the one portrayed by Amy Poehler in the "Saturday Night Live" skit who, when asked about her original position on Iraq, replied with a condescending smile, "I think most Democrats know me. They understand that my support for the war was always insincere."

Any candidate can suffer reputational damage during the course of a bitterly fought election. But Hillary rouses an exceptional amount of dislike even before we've been reminded of her flaws.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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