After Tuesday’s debate, Hillary Clinton’s advisors and spinners did a whole lot of complaining about her opponents’ tactics. It is a familiar routine for Hillary. In her first Senate run against the diminutive Rick Lazio, Hillary cried foul when we walked over to her podium to give her a piece of paper. “Menacing” and “threatening,” she and her aides claimed at this invasion of her personal space.
Well old habits die hard. After Tuesday’s night’s not-that-rough encounter with moderator Tim Russert and her somewhat hapless rivals Hillary’s spin team went into overdrive contending that these men had all ganged up on her. She put out a memo entitled “The Politics of Pile-On” which complained: “Sadly, Senator Obama caved to the pressure of the pundits and fundraisers who demanded that he go negative and abandoned the ‘politics of hope’ message that sparked so much interest in him early in the campaign. Meanwhile, Senator Edwards doubled down in his effort to become the guy best known for attacking other Democrats. Not to be outdone, the rest of the pack followed suit and piled on in the hope that they’d get some media attention.” Then the Hillary team sliced and diced the debate footage to show her various competitors all chiming in with their attacks on her in a montage of “Senator Clintons.”
In the spin room after the debate her handlers argued that there is not “another candidate could have taken two hours of sustained attack from the other candidates and come out on top” and that her rivals were “guys [who] want to talk about caricatures that have been formed from 15 years of Republican attacks.”
The Hill reported that in a conference call with supporters her pollster Mark Penn pointed his finger at Russert, declaring: “Russert made it appear that President Clinton had done something new or unusual” and groused that “ the other candidates were asked questions like, ‘Is there life in outer space?’ ”
Unsurprisingly, her MSM defenders picked up on the theme, and seemed taken aback that Russert was able to take Hillary to task on her answer on the unreleased Clinton papers and her social security two-stepping , labeling him “her third toughest opponent” (NY Times) and “the only person on stage who appeared to leave Clinton unnerved” (LA Times).
Hillary often argues that there are those who don’t want a woman to be president and often flashes her feminist credentials. But this after the fact whining hardly seems an appropriate response from an empowered and confident woman to the normal verbal sparring that accompanies every campaign. Her Republican counterparts joust with one another on a range of issues from immigration to taxes and routinely question each other’s consistency and credibility. In the general election will the GOP nominee expected to play by different rules when Hillary is the opponent?
Indeed it is sometimes difficult to follow the Hillary rules of etiquette. On one hand she claims to have the most experienced of any Democratic contender and cites her years as First Lady to demonstrate her “lifelong” fight for children and healthcare. However, the notion that she is the poster girl for nepotism and unqualified in her own right brings howls of “sexism” from her supporters.
Clinton contends that she will be her own candidate and hers her own presidency yet she relies on her husband to rein in a key endorsement from big labor from the SEIU and surrounds herself with advisors from her husband’s administration ranging from Madeline Albright to Sandy Berger. Is she able to attract support and talent on her own or must she rely on her husband’s rolodex?
This much is clear from the debate and its aftermath: she does not take criticism or challenge well. Grilled by Russert as to whether she and her husband would release records from the Clinton White House she retorted in a testy voice: “Well, that’s not my decision to make, and I don’t believe that any president or first lady ever has. But, certainly, we’re move as quickly as our circumstances and the processes of the National Archives permits.”
Pressed on whether she was answering questions on social security differently in public and private she again resorted to her sharp toned defensive stance, insisting: “Well, but everybody knows what the possibilities are, Tim. Everybody knows that.”
Annoyed with Russert’s follow up on her support for the Charlie Rangel tax bill, she insisted: “ No, I didn’t say that, Tim. I said that I’m in favor of doing something about the AMT. How we do it and how we put the package together everybody knows is extremely complicated. It’s not going to happen while George Bush is president. Everybody knows that. I want to get to a fair and progressive tax system.”
Then, of course, her worst moment came when she simply could not suffer the attacks on her driver’s license position(s) and further and told Russert to back off, declaring: “ You know, Tim, this is where everybody plays ‘gotcha.’ It makes a lot of sense. What is the governor supposed to do? He is dealing with a serious problem. We have failed. And George Bush has failed. Do I think this is the best thing for any governor to do? No. But do I understand the sense of real desperation, trying to get a handle on this? Remember, in New York, we want to know who’s in New York. We want people to come out of the shadows. He’s making an honest effort to do it. We should have passed immigration reform.”
The next day, cornered, she said she really does after all support driver’s licenses for illegal aliens.
So the lesson for her Democratic rivals and her eventual Republican opponent is plain. She doesn’t like it when the guns are turned on her and will complain bitterly about the mean fellow(s) making her uncomfortable. The smart opponent will ignore the histrionics and recognize those signs as evidence his attacks have landed. And when all else fails, a new adage may be in order: “There’s no whining in politics!”