Jewish World Review Jan. 23, 2006 / 23 Teves, 5766

Paul Greenberg

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Miss Hillary's hissy fit | Just when you think Hillary Clinton has become a born-again conservative in preparation for Ought-Eight, she gets up in front of a friendly audience, like the New Canaan Baptist Church of Christ in Harlem, and lets fly in her best, if wooden, imitation of Al Sharpton.

Warming up for the Campaign of '08, which began the morning after the Campaign of '04 ended, she called this administration "one of the worst" in American history. The talk shows were all agog, but it doesn't take much to get talk-shows talking. They've got a lot of dead air to kill.

What this was, was just another piece of MLK Day rhetoric that is uttered in a minute and is gone in a minute. Call it Miss Hillary's Ray Nagin moment. That is, it was of no moment.

What should disturb Miss Hillary's backers isn't so much her punch lines, but her white-bread delivery thereof. 'Cause it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing.

Have you noticed? These days the lady checks even the roundest of her roundhouse swings. This administration, she said, would be seen as one of the worst — not the worst — in American history. That's pretty weak tea. These church folks are used to that old-time religion and its powerful cadences. Miss Hillary's offering was almost dainty.

She should have sent Bill in her stead. Black churches are the only venue in which he ever showed a natural talent for oratory. Like any white Southern boy of a certain segregated generation, the presence of black folks to lend him a sympathetic ear always freed him up. They weren't peers; he didn't have to worry about what they might think. He could be himself.

Naturally the first person Bill Clinton would turn to on coming back to the White House after giving his false testimony about Monica would be his personal secretary, Betty Currie. He must have been mighty worried as the consequences of what he'd done began to prey on him that day, and naturally he turned to his black servant for an alibi and comfort in general. It could have been a scene out of a Southern novel, probably "All the King's Men."

As for Hillary Clinton's comparing the Republican-run House of Representatives to a plantation, it wasn't a very original line. Newt Gingrich used it when it was the Democrats who were running the House like their personal plantation. What gave the metaphor a kick this time was its use to stir racial memory and resentment.

But that dead-even voice of Hillary Clinton's drained the phrase of any real power. You can take the girl out of the nice North Chicago suburb, but you can't take the nice North Chicago suburb out of the girl.

One of the worst administrations in American history? Boy, that covers a lot of shaky ground. For our judgments on the past tend to reflect our prejudices in the present. When it comes to worst presidents, this opinionated Federalist-Whig-Republican would nominate Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, James Buchanan and Jimmy Carter. For starters.

Bill Clinton would rate only a dishonorable mention on my list, in part for the way he left office — in a flurry of dubious pardons for just about every no-goodnik who'd ever done him a favor.

(Which reminds me: Where is Marc Rich and when is he going to visit the Clinton Library and see the results of Mrs. Rich's generous donations to the Shrine — reported to have totaled $450,000?)

Lists of best and worst presidencies tend to be more entertaining than enlightening, like lists of best and worst prizefighters or ballplayers of all time. How, after all, really compare Babe Ruth to Willie Mays, or Rocky Marciano to Mohammed Ali? Or, for that matter, Richard Nixon to George W. Bush, or James Buchanan to Bill Clinton?

Yellow-dog Democrats surely have their own list of unfavorite residents of the White House, starting with Richard Nixon, Herbert Hoover, Warren G. Harding, U.S. Grant and Current Occupant.

I'd be hard put to argue with the selection of Richard Nixon as the worst, but the man did have his rare good points. For example: Last week marked five years since the law license of William J. Clinton, Esq., was suspended, which means he can now ask the Arkansas bar to reinstate him. Richard Nixon had the decency simply to resign from the California bar when he was disgraced.

As for Clinton femme, there's nothing like the prospect of running for president to wonderfully concentrate the mind. Not only did Hillary Clinton vote for the war in Iraq but she continues to support it, having come out against any "rigid timetable" for the withdrawal of American troops there. There's a name for that kind of electioneering: responsibility.

In case you missed it — she isn't exactly advertising it — Senator Clinton now says desecrating the American flag should be against the law. She's come around to recognizing that flag-burning, like cross-burning, is action rather than speech. That makes sense: Both are intended to provoke or intimidate others, and generally to disturb the peace in ways that speech might not. For the flag is not just a material object but a revered symbol with great power to move us, whether it's being waved atop Mt. Suribachi or set afire in contempt.

But in a display of bipartisan unity, Ms. Clinton's switch on this emotional issue has been assailed as insincere by her critics on both left and right. (Who says she can't unite the country?) Her newfound moderation may have more than a coincidental connection with the next presidential election, but instead of criticizing her for pandering to public opinion, why can't conservatives take her imitation as the sincerest form of flattery? Why not welcome her to the ranks instead of doubting her good faith?

Yes, I know why. Oh, you cynics.

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JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.

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