WASHINGTON -- Well, it is starting all over again. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has only been in the race for the presidency a few weeks and already she has introduced into the campaign her characteristic hints of the bizarre. First her lieutenants made that ferocious lunge at her rival, Sen. Barack Obama, after Hollywood mogul David Geffen expressed perfectly sensible misgivings about the Clintons. Though Obama had nothing to do with Geffen's objurgations, the Clintonistas insisted he disavow them and return money Geffen had raised for Obama.
The dustup did not redound to Hillary's favor. It reminded the citizenry of the heavy-handed politics of Sen. Clinton's past. An undercurrent of unease seeped into press coverage of the controversy. Journalists and Democratic politicians seemed to sense that once again Clintonistas had gone too far.
Of course, the Clintons always do. They predictably overreact and it gets them into trouble -- avoidable trouble. Now the Clinton team is in a fever about her slippage in the polls and about the drift of Democrats away from her to other candidates. So desperate has Hillary become that she is again speaking of the existence of a vast right-wing conspiracy. When she visited this paranoia on the country in 1998 she became the butt of ridicule. Yet on the outer fringes of the Democratic Party there is the moron vote, which believes in such stuff. Today the moron voters are leery of Sen. Clinton for her attempts at centrism. So she dredges up her bizarre charge: "If anybody tells you there is no vast right-wing conspiracy, tell them that New Hampshire has proven it in court." I do not know who this Mr. Hampshire is, but he probably has a large following among members of the Nudists for Peace crowd.
I myself recently experienced the Clintons' excitable nature, as Robert Novak reported in a column early this month. This past autumn I attended former President Bill Clinton's 60th birthday party in Toronto, where I enjoyed myself immensely. Bill and I were actually photographed standing next to each other, smiling and relaxed. There was not a trace of bad blood between us, despite my controversial appraisals of him. As our happy faces beamed into the camera, there was not a hint of stress on either face. We obviously were enjoying ourselves. It was a reminder that political discord can be adjourned when "Happy Birthday" is in the air.
I thought this would be a winning picture to print on the jacket of a book I was just finishing on Clinton's adventures in retirement, rather provocatively titled "The Clinton Crack-Up." Clinton has energetically traveled the world, speaking, making public appearances and hauling in mounds of money. How better to illustrate the universality of his exertions than to show him partying with me? As my date of publication grew nigh (the book will be out March 20) I grew apprehensive, for neither the photographer nor Clinton's office responded to our request to use the picture. My publisher was willing to pay a reasonable fee to brighten up the book's dust jacket.
Then at the very last minute and at considerable inconvenience to us came the reply. The photographer wrote that Clinton's office was rejecting us. Why on earth would Clinton be so rude? Admittedly he looked a little pallid in the photograph, but he has looked pallid through much of his retirement. He is a night owl and rarely sleeps very well when he does go to bed. But in the photograph he looked happy. He had a cheerful smile. Perhaps he wants to save the picture of us for a special place at the Clinton Library, but that would not preclude allowing the picture to grace my book.
Here is but another example of the Clintons making a ham-fisted response when gallantry would have served them well. We shall see, I believe, many examples of this boorishness from the Clintons in the campaign ahead. Mrs. Clinton is famous for it. In fact I would not be surprised if Hillary herself was responsible for putting the kibosh on this picture of us two guys together. We were obviously having a grand old time at her husband's birthday party, and as one can see from her recent employment of "vast right-wing conspiracy" Hillary tends to bear a grudge.