Every time she approaches a microphone, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton labors under the necessity of fudging on her program - offering, instead, an artificial personality and a variety of poll-tested bromides that let her duck key issues.
The resulting circumlocutions were evident in Tuesday night's Democratic debate. Her plans for Social Security? Clearly, she thinks she may need to raise Social Security taxes - but she can't say so. Instead, she repeats the poll-tested mantra of "fiscal responsibility" and a "bipartisan commission."
By "fiscal responsibility," she means ending Treasury borrowing from the Social Security Trust Fund, a policy already in place. By a "bipartisan commission," she means sharing the blame for unpopular policies with Republicans to minimize the deadly electoral impact. But she can't explain any of that, so she just repeats the mantra.
How about Iraq? Obviously, she doesn't plan to pull out. As she said in a newspaper interview before the presidential race really got under way, she recognizes that we need to keep troops there to train and support the Iraqi army, patrol the border with Iran and hunt al Qaeda in the provinces.
But she can't say that without getting chewed up by the Democratic left. So she speaks about the logistical impossibility of an immediate withdrawal and acts as if the force she would leave to pursue these missions would be minimal - even though she knows that Pentagon plans put the troops needed for even these limited missions at upward of 80,000.
Health-care reform? Her program of extending insurance to illegal immigrants and others who aren't now insured will trigger a massive increase in the demand for medical services. The result would be a steep price rise that would force rationing of health care, particularly for the elderly. But she mustn't say any of that - so she pretends that her health-care prescription is just a band-aid to cover the nagging little problem of 50 million uninsured and that her solution won't bother anybody else.
Driver's licenses for illegal immigrants? Certainly, she favors them. During her husband's administration, she helped kill proposals to ban them. In the Senate, she voted against prohibiting them. But she can't say so without seeming to be soft on terror, so she temporizes, expressing sympathy - but not support - for the plan.
A day after the other Democrats battered her over the issue in the debate, she released a statement of "general" support for Gov. Spitzer's goal of making illegal immigrants eligible for driver's licenses in New York. But, once again, a la Hillary, she sent confusing signals by stating that she hadn't studied it and wasn't "endorsing" any plan. So she's apparently for it but not for it. Get it?
The Alternative Minimum Tax? Bill Clinton vetoed legislation to repeal it in 1999. She voted against repealing it in 2006. She likely intends to limit or terminate it once she's elected, but only in return for other massive tax hikes in its place. But, again, she has to criticize the tax because of her need to attract middle-class voters and speak of opposing a "trillion-dollar" tax increase on them.
Iran? Thinking ahead to the general election, she must show toughness on terrorism. To court Jewish voters, in particular, she needs to stand up to Iranian nuclear ambitions. But, in the primary, she can't be seen to be too far to the right on the issue, so she speaks of "diplomacy" and of opposing a "rush to war." As Frederick the Great said, "Diplomacy without military might is like music without instruments." She knows this full well, but she can't mention the word "military" without forfeiting liberal votes in the primaries.
On issue after issue, Hillary mustn't let voters know what she plans or what she wants to do. That's the difficulty in being Hillary.
© Dick Morris & Eileen McGann