In yesterday's New York Times, both Frank Rich and Maureen Dowd raise good points about what I call the "Hillary toboggan," the nearly universal sense among the commentariat that Ms. Clinton is destined to slide effortlessly downhill to the Democratic presidential nomination. For Rich, Clinton's overly cautious, stage-managed campaign, which "doesn't make gaffes, never goes off-message and never makes news" is reminiscent of Al Gore's languid 2000 effort, and we all know how that turned out. In Dowd's view the nation is already saturated with the Hillary brand name and her sixteen years of public fame could provide an opening for a lesser-known Republican out of sheer fatigue.
I see yet another potential problem if the Democratic Party nominates Hillary Clinton in 2008: Swiftboating her is going to be a cinch.
The protégés of Karl Rove in the Republican Party will identify Ms. Clinton's strengths. They will understand that by all accounts she is a powerful, intelligent, competent, and experienced woman. Then they will set up a 527 tax-exempt Swiftboat group, and go after those strengths; most notably that she could be the first woman president in American history.
They'll produce a book, probably published by Regnery Publishing, which is owned by the Clinton-hating Richard Mellon Scaife and was responsible for the anti-Kerry book, "Unfit for Command: Swiftboat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry."
The Swiftboat group might be called something like "Women and Homemakers for Truth," and their book might be titled: "The Big Lie: How Hillary Clinton Has Betrayed Women, Children, and her Country."
The authors will tour the corporate media starting at Fox News and then fanning out to the right-wing radio circuit. NBC's Tim Russert, PBS's Jim Lehrer, and other "serious" news programs will dutifully pick up the group's smears and give the authors television air time, (just as they did in 2004 with John O'Neill and "Swiftboat Veterans for Truth").
The anti-Hillary Swiftboaters will claim that she is no "role model" for women and girls because she is too "feminist" or "hypocritical." She doesn't bake cookies. And when she was First Lady she was not at all like Laura Bush who is pure, wholesome, and eschews power.
They will claim that Hillary is not a "powerful" woman in any case because she turned a blind eye to her husband's years of infidelity. (I can just picture it now how Laura Ingraham and Ann Coulter and Michelle Malkin will run away with this one.) They'll have plenty of anecdotes from people like the dirtbag Dick Morris and his ilk making things up about Hillary's behaviors and "conversations" they supposedly had with her, and the corporate media will throw these in our faces without fact checking during the crucial last weeks of the campaign.
Hillary's Swiftboaters will say she is not really "experienced" because she is only a junior Senator and wouldn't be in the Senate in the first place if it were not for her famous husband, and that her eight years as First Lady do not count toward years of "service."
They'll rant and hyperventilate and go ad hominem like the excrementitious Dennis Miller does on Fox News saying she botched "Hillary-care," wants "socialized medicine," has big thighs, and so on. We might even see the reemergence of "doctor" Bill Frist peddling smears against Clinton while posing as an "expert" witness about the sinister Soviet-style socialism lurking beneath her national health plan. They'll also claim she is "incompetent" because her 1993 health care plan fell apart.
Finally, Hillary's Swiftboaters will scare the hell out of the base of the Republican Party by claiming that Hillary will stack the Supreme Court and the federal bench with abortion-loving, euthanasia-loving, gay and lesbian-loving judges and justices. And remind the Republican faithful every Sunday at their mega-churches across the land that Hillary received the endorsement of Planned Parenthood.
And when the dust settles, and the corporate media gets done ventilating all of these attacks -- Voila! -- We get stuck with "President Rudy Giuliani," a chief executive that will make George W. Bush look like a member of Code Pink!
It can't happen here you say? Think again.
There is only one remedy: direct, candidate-led frontal assaults on all Swiftboat attacks as they emerge in real time to counter the negative effects of this McCarthyite tactic. I would urge Hillary Clinton's people to study Robert F. Kennedy's 1964 Senate campaign in New York against the incumbent Republican Kenneth Keating where Kennedy won the seat that Clinton now holds. It was the only time RFK went face to face against a Republican and he forcefully shot down every one of Keating's smears. Of particular interest should be Kennedy's spontaneous and improvisational responses that exuded a kind of raw authenticity that is often lacking in the current political environment, and seems to be absent in the Clinton campaign so far.
If Hillary Clinton does win the nomination, let's hope that her people will be a lot smarter in 2008 in countering the inevitable Swiftboating than Bob Shrum and the pathetic John Kerry people were in 2004. There's still plenty of time for the Democrats to blow it once again.