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Sunday 8 June 2008

Hillary is disarmed but now needs to be appeased

Obama may not want her in the White House but he must keep Cinton onside, writes Ruth Dudley Edwards

THIS is no time for us aficionados of US politics to nod off. Quite apart from what surely must be an enthralling presidential election, the Obama-Clinton struggle continues. True, even Hillary accepts that Obama's got the Democratic nomination in the bag, but she's now intent on extracting from him an enormous consolation prize.

Obama would love to stick two fingers up to the Clintons, but he knows all too well that if he doesn't keep this baneful duo onside, vast numbers of disappointed Hillary supporters will stay at home or vote Republican on election day.

What Hillary wants is to be the vice-presidential candidate, but Obama knows how unutterably ghastly it would be to have the Clintons in the White House plotting against him. He knows, too, that his rhetoric for change would be undermined by a running-mate who symbolises a rather unsuccessful 1990s administration. And with a savage article by Todd Purdum in Vanity Fair alleging that Bill is a serial adulterer and raising questions about the company he keeps, Obama wants badly to keep well away.

Asked about the article, Bill Clinton described Purdum as "sleazy", "slimy" and "dishonest": "It's all about the bias of the media for Obama. Don't think anything about it. But I'm telling ya', all it's doing is driving her supporters further and further away, because they know exactly what it is -- the most rigged coverage in modern history."

That's just another example of how these days Clinton's temper tantrums, petulance and thinly veiled threats damage his wife and their party.

Anticipating the nuisance calls from Hillary demanding the vice-presidential nomination as her entitlement, Obama had the bright idea of setting-up a three-man team to choose his running-mate. Including as it does JFK's daughter Caroline, it should be able to deliver to Obama a result that he wants and the party accepts.

So what can he give Hillary that's big enough to make her campaign for him among her loyal female, Hispanic and blue-collar supporters?

He's sure to chuck her the $11m or so to pay off her campaign debts, but that's a trifle. The post of Senate Majority Leader is being mooted, but that would put Hillary in a position where she could, if she wished, seriously damage his presidency by fouling up his legislative programme.

He might put her in charge of reforming health care, which is a genuine concern of hers. When Bill gave her that job she messed it up spectacularly, but perhaps she's now sufficiently older and wiser to make a decent fist of it.

And then there's possibly the best option -- to promise her the first vacancy in the nine-person Supreme Court -- which would have the advantages of taking her out of politics, offering no credible role to her husband and of pushing the court in the liberal direction that both she and Obama favour on such social issues as abortion and gay marriage.

But what are Obama's core beliefs? Well, faced with what John McCain is already saying about his inexperience and naivete in foreign policy, he's becoming more hawkish by the day. It's quite a change from promising talks without pre-conditions with the lunatic Ahmadinijad to assuring the pro-Israel lobby that he realises that the Iranian regime supports violent Islamists and is the greatest threat to Israel: "I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Everything."

Yes, he's still saying he would bring home combat troops from Iraq by the end of 2009, but if the surge actually works, he may well change his tune if the alternative would be a hideous civil war.

It's worth remembering that JFK, with whom Obama is often compared, sent troops to Vietnam, authorised and financed the disastrous invasion of Cuba and in the Cuban missile crisis -- which his perceived weakness had precipitated -- he risked nuclear war with the Soviet Union. Just because you're young and eloquent doesn't mean you're a pussycat.

At present, Obama is the popular candidate with most of the rest of world, but how will other governments react when they finally clock that while McCain is a believer in free trade, Obama's a protectionist? This will win him votes at home, but its potential for damaging trade and developing countries is immense.

In the economic sphere, the candidates' differences on taxation and welfare are straightforwardly right and left, but they are not enormous. Essentially, what we will be watching over the next few months will be a contest of personalities and styles.

Will America go for the old war hero, maverick and experienced legislator whose integrity and toughness is not in doubt?

Or will they take a chance on a gifted, handsome, charming orator about whom they know little except that he's a shrewd campaigner.

I have no idea.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards