Hillary's Sunday sleigh ride

Posted: Dec 10, 2003 12:00 AM

Last Sunday, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton did something she has never done before: appear on the three morning shows on ABC, CBS and NBC, all on the same Sunday. Once viewers could see the easy sleigh ride she was getting, they might ask: Why'd she wait until now?

Foolish people -- defined as those who expected Hillary to be grilled by the networks -- were surely not only disappointed, but disgusted. In one softball pitch, Mrs. Clinton was asked to defend herself against nebulous conservative charges that it was wrong of her to tell soldiers in war zones that while everyone loved them, many question Bush administration policies.

"I think that's reflective of the efforts by this administration to deny and divert attention from what everybody knows. I mean, it is like the old children's story, 'The Emperor Has No Clothes,'" Mrs. Clinton told Tim Russert.

Can we agree that unclothed-emperor analogies are a bad metaphor -- a laughable choice -- from Mrs. Clinton? But Russert didn't even stutter or blink. As the senator representing (if not "from") New York rained criticism on Team Bush for failing to level with the American people and waging war on a political timetable, the Sunday hosts acted like they were born yesterday.

Is there anything lamer than Hillary Clinton charging someone else with not "leveling" with the American people? Isn't she the one who screamed at George Stephanopoulos that she wouldn't tolerate any stinking independent counsel examining how the Clintons enabled their business partners, the McDougals, as they robbed millions from Madison Guaranty Savings and Loan? Did she "level" with the American people about her secret health care task force or her killing in cattle futures?

If there is anything lamer, it's Hillary Clinton charging that some president other than her husband timed their military adventures on a political calendar. Don't the network stars remember how Clinton hit positively nothing belonging to Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and hit a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan to divert attention from his Lewinsky grand jury testimony? Don't they recall how he bombed Iraq just as House Republicans began considering impeachment charges?

But the lamest part of these Sunday sessions came when all three wasted their precious hard-question time by asking the Fabulous Former First Lady if she would throw her combat helmet into the ring for the White House next year. CBS's John Roberts should win a prize for keeping the suck-ups short and perfunctory. ABC's George Stephanopoulos looked like he was still trying to gain new acceptance from the old boss, and NBC's Tim Russert turned his show into a five-minute, Hillary-you're-so-popular gigglefest. They clearly know that buffing this Democratic "superstar" image only builds her clout on Capitol Hill and across the country, and they delivered.

And these people are wondering if Chris Wallace can ask tough questions on Fox?

None of these fawners has so much as dipped a toe into political reality. Yes, Hillary beats the stuffing out of the Democrats currently in the race -- but only among Democrats . When the polls turn to the general public, she's incredibly weak and very divisive. Why don't they point that out?

Well-informed political junkies like these Sunday morning hosts know that in June, ABC News posted a poll that found that only four in 10 Americans said Hillary should "ever" run for president, while a majority, 53 percent, said she should "never" run. The numbers could be viewed through an even darker glass. There was no substantive difference between men and women in their distaste for Hillary, and 56 percent of whites, 60 percent of older Americans, and 76 percent of Republicans told ABC "never" to a President Hillary campaign.

But no one cited those numbers between Hillary giggles. In fact, on Monday morning, Stephanopoulos reprised the Hillary-as-rock-star stanza for ABC's "Good Morning America." Co-host Charles Gibson observed the obvious: "It seems like a lot of us can't take no for an answer." George then added that it's "fairly realistic" that Hillary will be pressed into service as the vice-presidential nominee, and "it'll be very tough for her to say no at that point." The closest ABC came to its own poll was suggesting she was a "polarizing figure."

Twelve years after her national debut, with reporters polishing her pumps as Loyal Spouse and Mother in addition to her reputation as a Policy Genius, the networks are still treating her like an American queen, a madame-president-in-waiting, a "secular saint" in a black pantsuit. But all these years of unpaid advertising still leave a majority of Americans cold. Their soft soap isn't washing Hillary clean.

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