If anyone has paid acutely painful attention to the political ministrations of Karl Rove over the past two and a half decades, it's me. And if there is anyone qualified to make comparisons between democracy's Darth Vader and Hillary Clinton, I stand at the head of that line, as well. And sadly, the similarities are so brutally obvious as to be disturbing.
First, there is this matter of her husband, a man I admired as president in spite of his teenage behavior. Sen. Barack Obama has run a campaign that has never mentioned race. In fact, ethnicity was not an issue until President William Jefferson Clinton made his comparisons of Obama in South Carolina to Jesse Jackson. We were on the verge of almost transcending such superficial nonsense until Mr. Clinton brought us back to 1968.
And presently, we have the first female vice presidential candidate ringing the bell on the same topic. Geraldine Ferraro is, of course, a part of the Hillary Clinton campaign.
Senator Clinton plays the innocent on most of this by refusing to denounce these pronunciations. When she had the opportunity on 60 Minutes to tell the world that it is nonsense for the fear mongers to suggest Obama is a Muslim, she demurred with a qualified, "as far as I know" he's not. But she does know. Sen. Clinton and Obama have attended numerous Capital Hill prayer breakfasts together. Does she think he was playing the Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, perhaps trying to see what is going on with that whole Christianity thing? Isn't any person believable when they declare their faith until they have been vetted by the Clinton campaign?
She saved her campaign in Texas by acting like George W. Bush drunk on the ideas of Karl Rove. The 3 a.m. call ad that used fear to drive voters in her direction was nothing more than a desperate politician's attempt to tell everyone not even duct tape will save them if they vote for Obama. Created by Roy Spence of Austin, the ad was first deployed in 1984 in the Mondale campaign. (His ad agency also gave us, "You are now free to move around the country," and, "Don't mess with Texas," as memorable slogans.)
As Karl Rove has proven and as Orlando Patterson pointed out in the New York Times, campaigns and their messages are often more about image than substance. Was it an oversight or a design that the children sleeping safely in that 3 a.m. ad were white? Isn't everyone in politics astute enough to know these days that everyone who needs protecting isn't white? When Bush was running for president, Rove never let him be photographed without a rainbow coalition of children. Are we supposed to believe that Hillary's minders didn't see the racism implicit in her phone call ad?
The Clinton campaign doesn't seem to understand that the depth of Obama's appeal comes from his willingness to look forward with optimism instead of over his shoulder in fear. When he says, "We need to talk to our friends, but we also need to talk to our enemies," he is speaking for every mother and father who has a son in Iraq or one who might end up toting a gun for an amorphous cause that few can any longer explain. Who doesn't want to know why we are so despised that people will strap bombs to themselves to blow us up? Oh, I forgot, they hate our freedom. That's one Sen. Clinton hasn't tried yet.
It is also obscene in the extreme for the Clinton campaign to compare Sen. Obama to Ken Starr. Many voters from the rocky coast of Maine to the sunny shores of California want to know how much money the senator and the former president are earning, to whom he is speaking for large sums, and how he paid for his library in Little Rock. Do the Clintons really want to remind us what Ken Starr was looking for? As a friend of mine has suggested, this utter lack of judgment to bring his name back into the public discourse is "breathtaking."
Clinton is unwilling to sully her own hands with these absurd references. Like Rove, she relies on surrogates to go out and fire the gun. After the targets are wounded or dead, Rove had his clients come in and call for gun control and explain how they admired the political victim. Not Senator Clinton. She does nothing to denounce the nastiness. By pretending Obama is not prepared to lead, she proves her own desperation to acquire power and she denigrates the remaining historical reputation of her husband's administration. Historians might look beyond this dust devil she has spun, but the general public won't be able to see through the dirt flying through the air.
We are all tired of this. We all have Bush-Clinton fatigue. We need a hopeful, fresh start. Hillary might have made a fine president. But she has turned into an ugly campaigner.
This is not her time.