Victor Davis Hanson

Just a few months ago, the 2008 presidential contest seemed predetermined. The New York lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton were far ahead in their respective party polls. And in the one-on-one match-up, Sen. Clinton was all but declared the foreordained winner a year in advance.

But not now.

After Barack Obama's unexpected surge in Iowa, Bill and Hillary Clinton resorted to chewing him up through their trademark politics of personal destruction. Thanks to Clinton Inc., we now hear almost daily that Obama is inspirational but inexperienced, that he had admitted to drug use, that his middle name is Hussein, that he really was not against the Iraq war, that he consorts with Chicago slumlords, that he spins fairy tales, and that he likes Ronald Reagan.

Hillary found her many voices and pulled out all the stops — screeching, accusing and nearly crying — until finally Bill Clinton himself was unleashed.

Long gone was Bill's carefully crafted veneer of ex-president as global humanitarian and bipartisan senior statesmen. Instead, the Bill of old lost his legendary temper at reporters. He shook his finger. He bent the truth. Always he distorted Obama's record.

Then a funny thing happened. Hillary's liberal audience jeered at the pro-wrestling tactics of the Clinton tag team. The Democratic referees warned the Clintons to stop the eye gauging. Liberal spectators were bewildered not so much at the familiar Clinton knee-in-the-groin, but that it would be turned on one of their own good guys — and a young, soft-spoken and idealistic African-American at that!

Suddenly, “shocked” Democrats cried foul and recalled the tawdry pardons, impeachment and the tainted Clinton of the 1990s — not the rehabilitated Bill who helps tsunami victims and presides over the Clinton Global Initiative.

When the Clintons' return to power crashed into liberal dogmas about race and gender, all sorts of unexpected ironies arose:

Bill, as our first “black” president, had encouraged identity politics among a collective black electorate, so why was he angry that African-Americans might vote collectively for Obama? And had any recent ex-president ever regressed to such nasty character assassination on the campaign trail? As a committed feminist, why was Hillary calling for a male bailout by outsourcing her dirty work to her husband? And whom were we now voting for — Hillary, Bill or some sort of Clinton centaur, her supposedly rational head and torso implanted on his frisky body and legs.

The result of all this has been that while Hillary still polls ahead of the surging Obama in most states, in hypothetical general election polls she runs behind Republican front-runner Sen. John McCain.

End of story?

Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal.