Warm and Fuzzy in 2008

Margaret Carlson writes about how Hillary Clinton could overcome her "likeability" deficit in 2008, as evidenced by the recent Quinnipiac Poll, in which she ranked poorly. In my estimation, this is the biggest impediment to her candidacy, and a prime reason why she could fall to Barack Obama in a primary, despite his lack of experience, and despite her current strong advantage in polls. While Hillary Clinton may cerebrally understand politics as well as Bill Clinton, people tended to like Bill, but they have the absolute opposite reaction to Hillary. I've even spoken to many Democrats who have told me "there's just something I don't like about her," or "she just rubs me the wrong way." Whereas Bill was able to smoothly shift his positions when politically necessity demanded it, everything Hillary does is so transparent and comes off as completely telegraphed.

In her piece, Carlson talks about how presidents are often elected based on being more "warm and fuzzy," for example, while Gore bored people:

"Bush put himself out as the candidate you would want to have over for a backyard barbecueâ€_.When each candidate had his moment before the biggest daytime TV audience of the 2000 campaign, Bush planted a kiss on Oprah Winfrey and spoke about finding religion and losing booze. Gore extended his hand and talked Kyoto protocols."

Carlson contrasts Hillary's likeability with Rudy Giuliani's (who topped the Quinnipiac Poll):

"By 2008, if the world is in the same perilous condition as today, warm and fuzzy should matter less. Rudy 9/11 will give way to Rudy 9/10 in a New York minute. Clinton's accomplishments in the Senate, not her demeanor or record as the most-challenged spouse in political history since Eleanor Roosevelt, will count."

But Carlson errs by differentiating between a pre-9/11 and post 9/11 Rudy and also by conflating the public's warm feelings toward Rudy with him being "warm and fuzzy" in an Oprah-like way. Rudy did not change on 9/11 as much as America did. Although the public got to see a more compassionate side of Rudy on 9/11, he became popular with America not primarily for being consoler-in-chief, but for being a tough, resolute leader in the immediate aftermath of the World Trade Center attack. The same characteristics that prompted critics to accuse him of being stubborn and egomaniacal before 9/11, became appreciated as strong leadership when the nation was confronted with an unprecedented crisis.

A perfect example to demonstrate how the world, not Rudy, changed on 9/11 is one Carlson herself uses. In indicting the pre-9/11 Rudy, she criticizes "petty gestures like ejecting Yasser Arafat from Lincoln Center." Yes, when Giuliani kicked Arafat out of a United Nations' concert in 1995 on the heels of Arafat's Nobel Peace Prize, the Clinton White House, the State Department, two former mayors (including Ed Koch) and most of the media condemned the move. But Giuliani refused to apologize (in fact, he insisted that he was proud of his decision). At the time, this was viewed as intransigence. However, a few weeks following Sept. 11, Giuliani famously refused a $10 million relief check from Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal after Talal blamed the attacks on U.S. policy in the Middle East. This time, his action wasn't seen as a cheap publicity stunt, but as principled leadership. Same Rudy. Different America.

If Carlson really thinks that "By 2008, if the world is in the same perilous condition as today, warm and fuzzy should matter less," it's hard to see how that would favor Hillary over Rudy in a hypothetical matchup.

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