When hyperliberal Sen. Pat Leahy criticizes Bill Clinton for “glib, cheap shots” at Barack Obama, Hillary is in real trouble. Clinton’s Troubles aren’t caused only by backfire at Bill’s blunt use of racial prejudice against Obama in South Carolina. The Troubles are much more basic. Bill’s charm isn’t transferable to the lady who (in the wonderful words of my friend R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr.) is known to some as Bill’s lovely wife, Bruno.
Hillary’s poll numbers may be a bit above Obama’s nationally — yesterday, RealClearPolitics had her ahead by about 8 points — but those polls are not yet indicative of nation-wide strength. And there’s one factor the polls don’t measure.
Last October, gushy Katty Kay of BBC and Chris Matthews had this exchange about Obama:
Matthews: “This guy can stand before a crowd and make them feel magic.”
Kay: "And along comes somebody like Obama, who has all sorts of charisma, he is ridiculously good looking!"
No one ever said that about Hillary. Add to that what Caroline Kennedy twittered about Obama in yesterday’s New York Times:
I have spent the past five years working in the New York City public schools and have three teenage children of my own. There is a generation coming of age that is hopeful, hard-working, innovative and imaginative. But too many of them are also hopeless, defeated and disengaged. As parents, we have a responsibility to help our children to believe in themselves and in their power to shape their future. Senator Obama is inspiring my children, my parents’ grandchildren, with that sense of possibility…I have never had a president who inspired me the way people tell me that my father inspired them. But for the first time, I believe I have found the man who could be that president — not just for me, but for a new generation of Americans.
No one will again confuse Katty or Caroline for serious people. But why are so many Democrats of both genders going goo-goo eyed for Barack? Easy: Bruno doesn’t run well against Barack.
Saturday’s blowout win by Obama in the Democrats’ South Carolina primary (55%-27%) cannot be disregarded by the Clintons, because it’s the first time this year that any candidate got more than 50% of the vote.
According to Fox News exit polls Obama beat Clinton among women voters (53%-30%) and especially among black women (79%-19%) though she won among white women (44%-34%). It was as if Obama swooped down up at the right moment to rescue the voters, scooping up South Carolina in his arms, firing his webbing at a nearby wall and swinging out of range while the octopus-like villain was clicking its claws futilely in the air.
The Democratic primary race is Spiderman versus Roseanne. A lot of gals’ (and some wimpy guys’) favorite self-doubting superhero against the pain-in-the-butt wife that is every man’s nightmare. Call it what it is: a stylish rookie against the most charisma-free presidential candidate America has seen since Bob Dole.
Charisma-challenged Hillary has to rely on Bill to charm the voters, and he’s not giving it his best shot. The former charmer is apparently surprised — and embittered — by the success of Obama’s campaign. Under pressure, his raw nastiness comes out against even the media types who have always before protected him from himself.
When Bill campaigned in 1992 after his initial primary contests, he didn’t have to run against other Democrats. The media loved his faux-Kennedy image and disregarded his consistent dishonesty. Every time Bill complained that an opponent was engaging in “the politics of personal destruction” he was doing what the pshrinks call “projection.” He was accusing his opponents of doing what he was doing himself.
Billary are competing with increasing desperation against a capable Democratic opponent but Bill isn’t getting it: he’s still using the same smarmy tactics that worked sixteen years ago. The Clintons are flailing, but not yet failing. (Now the Clinton campaign announced he’ll be moved back into a "supporting spouse" role. Until they need to change his role again.)
Bill Clinton’s first campaigns in Arkansas and nationally were insurgencies. They were entirely fluid, managing to run both to the right and to the left. He was the real candidate of “change”, morphing against George H. W. Bush almost hourly. To overcome the Obama charisma factor, the Clintons were expected to do the same and haven’t. What worked fifteen years ago doesn’t work as well now, because Obama’s campaign is another insurgency and it’s depriving Clinton of the ability to end-run him.
Obama’s campaign consists entirely of the shimmering vacuity that appealed to Caroline Kennedy. Today, according to several reports, her uncle Teddy will endorse Obama. All of Bill Clinton’s vacations in Martha’s Vineyard, all his pretensions to the Kennedy mystique have been for nought. The Potemkin JFK he worked so hard to become has vanished in the web of Obama’s growing cult of personality.
The Kennedys’ endorsements of Obama will resonate deeply across generations of Democrats. Liberals live in an imaginary world, a utopia created around the youth and enthusiasm of John F. Kennedy. These endorsements aren’t enough to propel Obama to beat Hillary on Super Tuesday. But — in the terms Caroline wrote and Teddy will likely speak — Obama will have an advantage that the Democrat superhero JFK never did. The myth of JFK was created after his death, and every Democrat since 1963 has sought to surround himself with it. Obama will be crowned with it like Al Gore was crowned by the Nobel Prize committee.
The Democratic race is split along an unfamiliar fault line. The Clintons — deprived of charm and the Kennedy mystique — against a liberal black candidate they cannot attack on policy grounds. There’s not a dime’s worth of difference between Hillary and Obama on issues. They continue their racial attacks not only at their peril, but at the risk of wounding themselves fatally among a constituency they cannot win without.