LOS ANGELES – Poor Dick Morris. My old buddy, the other half of the "odd couple" routine we’ve done many times on Fox News, can’t be having an easy time of it, as his recent columns make clear.
Dick’s problem is not that he was wrong, but that he was right, or at least half right.
In his now half-obsolete book, "Hillary and Condi," he predicted (rightly) that Hillary would be the Democratic nominee for president, that no one could stop her, that her experience, ambition, determination and discipline would propel her to the top of the Democratic heap.
True, he didn’t foresee Barack Obama’s candidacy, but then, neither did I; his "Hillary and Condi" book and mine, "The Case for Hillary Clinton," came out on the same day, and both of us, in our minds, had her running against a field that looked pretty much like this one, minus Obama. But as is becoming increasingly clear, it doesn’t matter that much: Obama is an attractive candidate, and beating him will make Hillary even more formidable as the Democratic nominee, but unless something changes radically, that is exactly what is going to happen.
Two years ago, Dick took the position that only Condi Rice could beat Hillary. The list of people who couldn’t beat Hillary included not only the likes of John McCain and Mitt Romney, but also Rudy Giuliani, who last time I checked, is still pro-choice, pro-gun control, and pro-gay rights; still the quintessential New Yorker; still as undisciplined and unpredictable as he’s always been, except now his kids aren’t speaking to him, 9/11 survivors and relief workers are attacking him, and his wife is calling him in the middle of speeches.
Of course, Condi has even greater problems: no one is talking about drafting the woman who, as much as anyone except Dick Cheney and Bush himself (and maybe Rumsfeld) is tarred by the utter ineptitude that has constituted our war effort in Iraq.
However you stand on the initial decision, even such staunch supporters of military intervention as John McCain acknowledge that the actual war effort has been horribly mismanaged. I like Condi, personally, and I think she is a very smart woman, but no one is going to draft her to run for president, and she’s not going to show up on the short list for VP on anyone’s list.
So what’s a Hillary Hater to do?
First, he called her husband a liar. How dare Bill Clinton suggest that his wife chose public service over a career in private practice when she failed the D.C. bar the only time she took it? (My own theory is that she wasn’t actually trying, since the D.C. bar is pretty easy; on the other hand, if the man you’re in love with is in Arkansas, why kill yourself to pass in a place that doesn’t allow you to practice anywhere else?)
Silliness. If Hillary wanted to pass a bar, she’s smart enough to do it. If not the first time, then the second. If she’d wanted a law firm job, she could have gotten one. Yale Law graduates have an easy time doing that.
How dare Bill suggest that she put his electoral ambitions over hers, when Dick himself polled once and found that she couldn’t get elected governor of Arkansas? Because if Hillary were going to put her ambitions first, she would have moved home to Illinois, or to a place like New York (which she ultimately did) that’s friendlier to outsiders than Arkansas, Bill’s home, tends to be.
And on and on. There were two problems with Dick’s attack on Hillary, or three depending on your perspective.
First, there is a perfectly good answer to each of Dick’s charges, most of which people don’t care about anyway (does anyone care whether you passed a bar exam 34 years ago?).
Second, so what if Bill is exaggerating in his praise of his wife; most of us would be perfectly happy if our partners showed such devotion. And besides, Bill isn’t running, so get mad at him if you want.
Finally, and this is the perspective question, Dick himself has always drawn a line between the former president and the former First Lady, reserving his true wrath for the latter. When we were on book tours at the same time, I’d arrive at each station, the day after him, to be told that according to Dick, he had talked only recently to his old buddy, the former president, and it was Hillary who he had big issues with.
In truth, the recent "talk" consisted of a quick handshake in a hotel lobby where they crossed paths by chance, but the ire for Hillary was real with a capital R. So now the nightmare is coming true. There is no Condi to stop her. She is running away with the Democratic nomination.
Dick has already crowned Rudy Giuliani the next Condi, the man to support not because you necessarily agree with him on anything, or respect his values, but because he is the last best hope to beat Hillary. And he’s trying to give advice to Obama about how to slow down her march.
According to Dick, Obama needs to attack Hillary more, and he needs to attack her not on who got the issue of the war right five years ago (almost no one did, most Americans he is trying to persuade included); besides, getting it right when you’re in the Illinois Senate in Springfield, and didn’t have access to the classified information that convinced Hillary and others of the existence of real threats, reminds people of where you weren’t just a few short years ago, and how far you’ve come how fast. Besides, it’s history, not current events.
So Dick argues in his most recent column, in which he advises Obama to attack the nuanced and reasonable stance Hillary has taken in making clear that troops will be in Iraq for some time, that security is necessary for political change to occur, and that the United States can’t just withdraw the troops and leave the country broken and in chaos.
Attack her for that, Dick argues. Play to the (irresponsible) left. Dig your own grave, but take Hillary with you. If that’s the best the brilliant Dick Morris can do, you know Hillary is in really good shape.
In fact, Obama’s position on the war, as it relates to the future, is no different than Hillary’s. Pushing her to the center and trying to stake the extreme left position will ultimately help Hillary in the long run, both with caucus and primary voters concerned with electability and with general election voters concerned with strength, and make it easier for her allies to question Obama’s understanding of the nuances of foreign policy.
Besides, Obama’s not the type to do it. His wife might, but not him. Michelle Obama and Elizabeth Edwards have been tougher on Hillary than either of their husbands have been. They seem to be almost as frustrated as Dick. And no more successful.
To succeed in a presidential campaign, you have to have a very well-lit fire in your belly. Without it, you step back, become too cautious, and don’t move. Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Edwards have the fire. Dick Morris has his own version of it.
But Obama himself? Or Edwards for that matter? I’m not convinced. The easier and faster and smoother a candidate receives his party’s nomination, the stronger he is going into the general election cycle. Or she.
Susan Estrich is the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California. She was Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and the first woman President of the Harvard Law Review. She is a columnist for Creators Syndicate and has written for USA Today and the Los Angeles Times.
Estrich's books include the just published “Soulless,” “The Case for Hillary Clinton,” “How to Get Into Law School,” “Sex & Power,” “Real Rape,” “Getting Away with Murder: How Politics Is Destroying the Criminal Justice System” and "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women.”
She served as campaign manager for Michael Dukakis' presidential bid, becoming the first woman to head a U.S. presidential campaign. Estrich appears regularly on the FOX News Channel, in addition to writing the “Blue Streak” column for FOXNews.com.