LOYAL OPPOSITION: You're Okay, I'm Running for Senate
Are you beginning to feel sorry for Al Gore yet? I'm no fan of Bill Clinton's number-one cheerleader. But even though Gore has pressured South Africa to tear up a law that would make anti-AIDs drugs more affordable for its millions of HIV-infected citizens, has wimped out on global warming and has been a lieutenant in the scandalous fundraising of the Democratic Party, I almost feel a tinge of sympathy for the lug. After all, he's caught in the middle of the Bill and Hillary psychodrama.Hillary's Senate bid continues the national soap opera. For the media, not much could be better. The cheated-upon wife of the President turns to a senate race for therapy. Bill's adultery was a good career move for Hillary. Before Monicagate, when Hillary was largely known for her cockamamie healthcare plan and for being a hard-ass in dealing with requests for information on the various Clinton scandals, there wasn't much yearning for her to parachute into New York and slide into the Senate seat being vacated by Daniel Patrick Moynihan. She's improved her public standing by being victimized by the lying philanderer she enabled. Will the wronged woman find salvation in the loving arms of the New York electorate?What a great story line: With Juanita Broaddrick and all the other Jane Does back in obscurity and the Kosovo war nearing an end, Hillary's stepping up to the plate just in the nick of time for the cable blabfests. "Thank God for this," Hillary biographer and onetime right-wing investigative journalist David Brock says, half-seriously. "Now we'll still have something to talk about"÷instead of worrying about the best way to solve the problems of Medicare or figuring out what the hell a Social Security lockbox is.What the appropriate end to the Clinton tale should be seems obvious: Bill is left standing, free to dart off to DreamWorks, run a university or do commercial endorsements, while everyone close to him is in tatters÷Gore defeated (if he's lucky enough to best Bill Bradley for the nomination) and Hillary spurned by her substitute family. Mind you, this is not a prediction, but such a finale for the Clinton era would contain a certain poetry. That's why I would've counseled Hillary to resist the siren call of electoral acceptance. Losing could be devastating: She pays the final tab. But Hillary is a grownup and if she thinks she can live with that climax, so be it.As pollster John Zogby pointed out in a New York Times op-ed last week, the numbers are not necessarily in her favor. Hillary would be in a better position if the election were this November. For a year and a half, she'll be poked, probed and picked at by opponents, pundits and reporters. She might not look so good when Monica is a distant memory. Will Hillary wear well? Last week, when she appeared at a high school graduation at a Washington-area school, the MC kidded that since she was looking for work outside the White House she might consider the school superintendent position open in that district. Hillary tried to smile along with the joke, but her tight-lipped expression seemed to say, "What a fucking idiot." If she can't take this sort of mindless ribbing, she'll be in trouble on the campaign trail. And let's see her explain once more that smells-bad commodities deal. Can she do so without adopting that how-dare-you-question-me attitude that appears whenever her probity is challenged?Hillarymania is a bad development for politics. She's a credible candidate because she possesses fame and can raise money, yet what are her true accomplishments? Guiding the career of a politician who turned on his party whenever that helped him? Holding the hand of a man who dumped their friend Lani Guinier, who engaged in sleazy fundraising, who has done little for inner cities, who beat back labor on NAFTA and GATT, who cozied up to the Chinese, and who signed the GOP's version of welfare reform? On her own, she set back the cause of universal health care coverage for years. And she played a crucial role in bringing Dick Morris, the mercenary consultant who epitomizes cynical poll-driven politics, into the White House after the Republican victory in the congressional elections of 1994. (She deserves every barb he tosses at her.) But she is a brand name, the latest of celebrity politicians. Because the Democratic Party does not have much of a team to field in New York, it has to import a ringer. At least it didn't turn to a wrestler.There's been much punditifying about the impact of Hillary's race on Gore's campaign. Outside of Gore spinners, no one seems to see how this could redound to Gore's advantage. Hillary will be a distraction, a magnet (if not a black hole) for money and media attention. Gore's chief challenge is stepping out of the shadow (or mudpit) created by Bill Clinton. Just as he starts that endeavor, he has to worry about Hillary blocking out the light. She'll be an ever-present point of comparison for Gore. He'll be constantly asked to comment on developments within her campaign. ("Mr. Vice President, do you agree with Hillary Clinton that all federal and state contractors should pay a living wage, which is higher than the minimum wage?") Her message (whatever it will be) will compete with his message (whatever it will be).Hillary isn't being loyal to her husband's chief loyalist. Either she believes her campaign somehow can help Gore÷or that it cannot. Neither scenario is flattering. In the first, she's delusional. (If Gore cannot win New York on his own in the general election, then he has no business being in the race.) In the second, she doesn't care about her good friend.Gore, who has plenty of problems of his own, is caught in the crossfire of the First Couple's dysfunction. Last week, the Vice President brought a bunch of religion writers to the White House and proclaimed, "The purpose of life is to glorify God. I turn to my faith as the bedrock of my approach to any important question in my life." (One can hear Gore: "Dear Lord, please guide me as I decide how best to handle RIFing GS-14s in the next RIGO initiative.") The next day, at a "Women for Gore" event at Washington's swank Mayflower Hotel÷Hillary was there; Bill was obviously absent÷he opened his speech by referring to his mother and noting that she was a major inspiration in his life. The Gore campaign strategy is congealing: God and mother. If I were Gore these days, I'd want my mommy, and I'd be praying.