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Jewish World Review Sept. 25, 2000 / 24 Elul, 5760

John H. Fund

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Consumer Reports

Hillary gives new meaning to a "woman with a past" -- HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON has spent the last seven and a half years being protected from troublesome questions by Secret Service agents and staffers. It shows. This month's debate in Buffalo showed the first lady knows the issues and can deliver scripted lines. But when she's forced to think on her feet, she painfully reminds all of us this is her first campaign.

EVEN THE NEW YORK TIMES, not known for being friendly to George W. Bush or other Republicans, admitted that Rep. Rick Lazio "came across as a smoother, more aggressive performer." A seasoned candidate faced with the question about her husband's impeachment scandal would have come up with a warm expression of regret and turned the question around. But Mrs. Clinton reacted as if she had never had to address the question before, and came across as less than convincing. Then she allowed her little-known opponent to dominate the stage and back her into a corner with her refusal to take a pledge against running commercials financed with unregulated "soft money."

Lazio does come across as a young, too-eager-to-please pol, but he is a fresh face and Mrs. Clinton is clearly a woman with a past that keeps coming back to haunt her.

First, there's her lack of ties to New York. Mr. Lazio said her Little Rock policy record wasn't adequate for the Big Apple. A commercial being run by the American Conservative Union, one of the independent groups whose involvement in the campaign Mrs. Clinton rails against, pokes fun at her by showing five babies sitting next to each other. "In New York, all babies like these have something in common," the ad says as the camera zooms on a single baby wearing a Yankee baseball cap. "They've lived here longer than Hillary Rodham Clinton."

Secondly, Independent Counsel Robert Ray has announced that he will release a report on the First Lady's involvement in the Whitewater bank scandal (which led to the collapse of a savings and loan that cost the taxpayers $60 million). Mrs. Clinton's defenders will scream "politics," but it is her own delays in not turning over evidence (remember the billing records?) and her lack of cooperation that have delayed Ray's report so long. Mrs. Clinton will not be indicted, but Ray could well conclude that she operated in an unethical manner and may not have told the truth to federal investigators. Third, White House staffers have voiced concern that the old Clinton practice of renting out the Lincoln Bedroom to contributors may still continue under the First Lady's supervision. Since mid-1999, there have been at least 26 times in which people have stayed overnight at the White House after donating to Hillary's campaign or promising to do so.

You, go girl!

The White House is balking at release of the name of Hillary's overnight guests on Pennsylvania Avenue and also at the president's Camp David retreat. If the charges that the infamous "overnights" have continued despite White House admissions that the hospitality dispensed during the 1996 campaign was ill-advised, expect a populist backlash from some voters.

Mrs. Clinton is still having trouble standing on her own two feet. She has always existed in the shadow of her husband, her power derivative and unelected. Some of that isn't all her fault. She came of age during a time when the role of women in politics was in transition. If she had been born in the 1930's, she would likely have settled for the role of a conventional political spouse, influential but behind the scenes. If she'd been born in the 1950's, there is little doubt she would have sought public office in her own right. Instead, she remains in an awkward position that will continue to prevent her from connecting with voters.

If you detected an uneasy, programmed look in Mrs. Clinton's eyes during the televised debate, it may have been her realization that her years in Bill Clinton's still haven't prepared her for a leading role on the political stage.

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©2000, John H. Fund