A Long Trail to November

Posted: Oct 22, 2007 12:01 AM
A Long Trail to November

John Edwards is right about one thing. Lots of people are acting as if Hillary Clinton has the Democratic nomination wrapped up in tissue paper and safely tucked away in her Louis Vuitton handbag. "Did I miss something?" he asks. "Did we already have the Iowa caucuses? Did we already have the New Hampshire primary?"

"It's a long, long time from May to December," the lyricist Maxwell Anderson consoled lovers, and the presidential candidates are learning that the days will begin to dwindle down to November soon enough, and a lot can happen between now and then. A lot can be forgotten, too.

A certain scandalous revelation appears and the conventional wisdom says it's sure to sink the candidate, but it becomes merely a 24-hour sensation, barely deadly enough to last through two news cycles, and eventually becomes but a tiny footnote in a memoir of the long campaign. Silly mistakes sometimes only make silly jokes.

Rudolph Giuliani was ridiculed for taking cell phone calls from his wife in the middle of a stump speech, and it was widely thought that he might not survive the jokes. When he noted, with unusual humility, that he was merely "technologically challenged" and had never learned how to put the phone on "vibrate," the episode was over. "It won't happen again," he said. His wife, Judi, spiked the gossipy speculation that she would sit in on Cabinet meetings in a Giuliani White House. "I'm not a political person," she purred, "and I have no desire to sit in on Cabinet meetings. And I promise you, I'm not going to morph into a politician."

Campaigns are on-the-job training for a prospective "spouse of," and we spend a lot of time speculating on the considerable impact they have on campaigns, but unless they make really dumb mistakes, Bill Clinton is the only prospective "spouse of" who's likely to make much difference with voters. (It's not clear whether that will be for better or for worse.) Hillary, who once seemed a liability when she promised she wouldn't stay home to bake cookies, could give her cookie recipes to Bubba.

Hillary may or may not have learned enough from experience to sell her "new and improved" health care scheme, but the old story of how she, fierce defender of the privacy of us all, listened to a secretly recorded audiotape of private citizens criticizing her husband, continues to have more lives than a bob-tailed cat. This incident, first told by Bob Tyrrell, editor of The American Spectator, in his encyclopedic coverage of the Clintons, has been recycled again in the recent spate of Hillary books.

The incident took place 18 years ago, but the recycling should be more than a little embarrassing for Hillary, who makes the privacy of ordinary citizens a highlight of her campaign. Privacy is part of the debate over government surveillance of everybody in the war on terror. "It's rather unbelievable that [Hillary] Clinton would listen to a conversation being conducted by political opponents," says one Republican campaign consultant, "but refuse to allow our intelligence agencies to listen to conversations conducted by terrorists as they plot and plan to kill us."

But how will the war against terror, in all its different and complicated manifestations, play out over the long campaign? Will social issues trump foreign policy? Can Democrats successfully spin the humming economy as a negative to distract attention from the radical Islamist killers? Rudy Giuliani so far maintains his high poll numbers because voters trust him to be the toughest man in the terror war.

"Values voters" don't like his pro-choice abortion views. But two pro-life governors, Rick Perry of Texas and Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin, one sitting and one former, endorse him anyway. Gov. Perry, like many conservatives, is satisfied that he'll appoint Supreme Court justices in the mold of Chief Justice John Roberts. "When I go to buy a pickup truck, if it has one option I'm not fond of, it doesn't mean I disregard that pickup truck."

Gary Bauer, an evangelical conservative activist, agrees. "I think a lot of evangelical voters see abortion as a moral issue," he told The Wall Street Journal, "but a lot of them also see defending Western civilization against this enemy as a moral issue." (I'll say.) Jews like the former mayor of New York for once evicting Yasser Arafat from a meeting of world leaders at Lincoln Center in New York City. These voters remember Hillary Clinton's famous embrace of Arafat's wife. So the days dwindle down, and between now and November there's lots of time for Rudy, Mitt, John, Mike and all the others to make mistakes to remember. Buyer and seller, be wary.

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