Hillary's secret weapon does not shock the world

Most political observers and bloggers have been expecting some sweeping Clinton ex machina to clear out or at least damage her rivals in the Democrat field prior to the big primaries. I’m becoming convinced (convincing myself, mainly) that it’s not this. If she planted that story, and it turned out to be wrong, she would have angered one of the country’s more successful ambulance chasers trial lawyers. Granted, she’s a lawyer too, but he’s a better one with prettier hair. If the story turned out to be right, well that’s different, but it’s in the Enquirer and that weakens the story’s plausibility from the start. If you’re going to plant, find less tainted soil.

Hillary’s planted story, her big pre-primary attack on a rival, is actually this. I think. If she has one. She has been pushing this story for weeks if not months..She bought domain names to put this story in one place on the web. She’s banking something on it gaining traction. But the problem is, it’s laaame.

In 1999, Barack Obama was faced with a difficult vote in the Illinois legislature — to support a bill that would let some juveniles be tried as adults, a position that risked drawing fire from African-Americans, or to oppose it, possibly undermining his image as a tough-on-crime moderate.

In the end, Mr. Obama chose neither to vote for nor against the bill. He voted “present,” effectively sidestepping the issue, an option he invoked nearly 130 times as a state senator.

Sometimes the “present’ votes were in line with instructions from Democratic leaders or because he objected to provisions in bills that he might otherwise support. At other times, Mr. Obama voted present on questions that had overwhelming bipartisan support. In at least a few cases, the issue was politically sensitive.

The record has become an issue on the presidential campaign trail, as Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, his chief rival for the Democratic nomination, has seized on the present votes he cast on a series of anti-abortion bills to portray Mr. Obama as a “talker” rather than a “doer.”

Well, Obama is a talker rather than a doer. So is Hillary Clinton. So are nearly all US Senators. They’re all talkers. If any of them were ever doers, their doer days are long done. That’s why they’re in the Senate. It’s also among the reasons we rarely elect Senators directly to the White House. They’re not doers, and presidents are by definition doers.

She could — but she won’t — knock Obama for skipping the MoveOn “Betray Us” vote. It would fit her attack on his “present” votes. Skipping that vote does stink of cowardice. But bringing it up would also remind everyone that she sided with MoveOn to smear the man that just might have turned the war in Iraq around for good. So she won’t bring that up.

A better knock on Obama is that he’s a far left rookie on the national scene who is nowhere near experienced enough for the job he’s after. That knock happens to be true. He’s the least experienced candidate on either side in national politics. He has no executive experience. And he misreads Washington nearly perfectly. Proof enough of that is Obama’s touting Sen. Chuck Hagel as a possible appointment to his cabinet. It’s not just, as Mickey Kaus says, that Hagel was disastrously wrong on the surge. Hagel was disastrously wrong on the surge. Hagel is disastrously wrong on nearly every foreign policy question. He’s a walking soundbite machine for the Democrats. Everybody who’s watched Washington politics for longer than a couple of years ought to know that.

Obama’s inexperience goes deeper than that, though. Obama seems to think Republicans will be impressed that he’s willing to put Hagel in his cabinet. Most rank and file Republicans would prefer that Hagel be cast even further into irrelevance, like burying him in an ambassadorship to someplace we never hear about. We won’t be impressed if Hagel ends up in an Obama cabinet, though we might thank Obama for giving us the chance to put an actual Republican in the Senate in place of Hagel. That honeymoon won’t last an hour.

But Hillary can’t point any of that out. First, she also probably hasn’t realized what a gift Hagel’s ascension to a Democrat cabinet would be to Republicans. Second, she doesn’t have much more experience than Obama does, really. She has been on the national stage longer, but she hasn’t blazed a trail of success. Third, she was wrong about the surge, too. She just wasn’t as wrong as Hagel was.

President Bush is said to be weighing a U.S. military “surge” to quell widespread sectarian violence in Iraq, and incoming Senate Majority Leader Democratic Harry Reid said over the weekend he would support a short-term increase in American troops in Iraq if it were part of a broader withdrawal plan.

“Everyone knows there is no military solution to the difficulties we face in Iraq,” said Clinton, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “There has to be a broad-based comprehensive approach that includes resolving some of the political issues, bringing the region together.”

That was one year ago this week. Hillary Clinton was to the left of Harry “the war is lost” Reid on the surge. And “bringing the region together” was code at that time for making nice with Iran and Syria. The Bush administration famously didn’t do that. It did surge the troop levels in Iraq. It did work with the locals to forge progress. It did use military power to overwhelm and destroy al Qaeda wherever it could while also overawing the militias into at least temporary armistice. So Clinton had that wrong from one side to the other. She’d probably appoint Hagel, too, given the chance. They can have each other.

But getting back to the planted story. Obama’s “present” votes seem to be the best she has, unless she’s planning to nuke him during Christmas week. That’s not likely to go down too well with, well, anyone, which I concede won’t stop the over-aggressive Clinton machine from attacking. But I do think it’s unlikely. There just won’t be enough air for the story to catch fire during that week. It’s now or never.

But the “present” votes make for a lame attack. It’s unlikely that the “present” votes are going to make any difference at all. He has explanations for some of them posted on his web site, and they’re not stupid reasons. They’re arcane walls of text that no one who isn’t a political junkie is likely to read, but in sum they make for the kind of thing that jazzes Al Gore (remember his catchy “Dingel-Norwood” riff in 2000? Neither do most Americans) but no actual humans. No one is going to care. It looks like Obama has blunted a frivolous, possibly made up charge.

If this is Hillary’s planted story, and I say it is until her devious minions prove me wrong, then she’s got nothin’.