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Sunday 13 January 2008

Riding on coat-tails of experience, crying crocodile tears

The Clintons are despicable, Obama is decent, but McCain for president, argues Ruth Dudley Edwards

IT WAS in the middle of Tuesday evening last week, at a jolly gathering of the like-minded, that we drank a toast to the political demise of Hillary Clinton.

Henry was the only dissenting voice: Don't count on it," he said.

"The Clintons are a dangerous bunch of feckers."

He rang me at 8.00 am, so happy to be able to brag about his percipience, that his grief at Hillary's win in New Hampshire was momentarily assuaged.

Having trampled on my bleatings about how this was only a blip and Obama could rise again. Henry eventually reverted to his natural cheerfulness, cheered with me the victory of John McCain and agreed that if Americans weren't off their heads, McCain would do for Hillary in the long run.

Why can't people like us stand the Clintons? (Since Hillary is running on her experience of being married to Bill. one has to take them together.)

Well, we think Bill is a gifted and charming scoundrel whose self-indulgence and inability to focus on his job ruined his presidency, while Hillary is clever, dogged and disciplined but a cold, robotic and obsessively ambitious person whose political career owes everything to being married to Bill.

The White House in the Clintons' time was an unseemly, angry, shambolic place, where Bill endlessly lost his temper (his explosions were categorised by a one-time staffer as the morning roar; the telephone nightcap; the slow boil; the silent scream; the last gasp; and the show "for the benefit of someone else in the room.") while Hillary simmered with rage over the Lewinsky scandals and the president's subsequent impeachment and took it out on his aides. (You can read on the Net a fascinating review article by Noemie Emery in The Weekly Standard of a book about the Clinton White House.)

Bill has wanted Hillary to be president not just because he owes her, but because that would keep feeding him the oxygen of frontline politics.

Vice President Al Gore could thank the Clintons for his narrow defeat by George W Bush in 2000, not just because of the sleaze factor that damaged the Democrats, but also because the Clintons used their position to fundraise and campaign for her senatorial contest in New York rather than work for the presidential candidate.

An indifferent senator, Clinton is running for president on the ticket of experience, although she was no more important in White House decision-making than have been Barbara and Laura Bush. She was given one big chance to prove herself when Bill preposterously put her in charge of devising a system of healthcare and showed her mettle by messing up completely.

So Hillary sees little option but to lie about her importance. For instance, she wasn't in the North as a spouse, no sirree, for "I was not only part of the domestic policy team and the diplomatic team we had in those years, but I was also able to help make some of those changes."

She's been telling American voters that she visited the North more than Bill did and that she brought together Catholic and Protestant women who had never met before and helped them recognise their common humanity.

Well, I may have thought Bill's contribution to the peace process flawed, but no one could doubt his intellectual and emotional commitment and involvement compared to his wife's, which was cosmetic. The meeting to which she refers - which is covered accurately in her autobiography - was between peace activists who knew each other well. It's votes, not truth, that matters to Hillary.

Being appalled by the idea of this unscrupulous and unprincipled couple returning to the White House, I was, of course, inclined to smile on decent, open, likeable Barack Obama, and when be won in Iowa and made that marvellous victory speech, this old cynic had a tear in her eye.

Unfortunately, that even greater cynic Hillary had one too, a day later, which brought dumb women out to vote. Marianne Pernold Young, who fatefully asked her the magic question: "How do you keep upbeat and so wonderful?", was staggered when Hillary welled up and even more shocked by the consequences, not least because she hadn't herself been taken in by the performance.

"I thought she was a soft feminine woman for seven seconds," she said later, but "when she turned, she adapted this political posture again, the stiffness and the rhetoric, and I said I really want to vote for Obama.

I mentioned to Conrad Black, with whom these days I enjoy discussing politics by email, that I hoped for an Obama resurgence, and had the response: Obama is a $3 bill. His entire program is: One, the largest tax increase in world history; Two, a complete bug-out in Iraq; Three, dealing with terrorists by sitting down and rapping with them."

Obama would, admitted Black, "be smart enough to shape up a bit with on-job training, but the national media are about to 'Goldwater him' as Nixon used to say" (ie classify him as an extremist).

It's not just because I despise the Clintons that I hope Black is wrong and that Obama can win the Democratic nomination, for I truly believe he has done much already to take the sting out of racial politics, to show Americans a vision of national unity and to inspire young people who are tired of division and want an end to dynastic politics.

I hope, however, that whoever the Democrats choose, loses to John McCain, a moral and physical giant, a man of absolute integrity and someone tough enough and experienced enough to fight an intelligent battle for the West against the forces of despotism and unreason that threaten us.

He may be 71, but, as he points out, it's the genes that matter: his 95-year-old mother and her twin sister still spend three months a year driving around Europe.

I'm placing no bets nor drinking any more premature toasts. But what a party we'll have if a McCain victory is the outcome.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards