Familiarity can breed contempt, and the public, inspecting politicians, never needs much familiarity to get there. But when straw polls are a waste of time and punditry has the shelf life of a shrimp, how else can the pols and the pundits figure out where we are?
Money talks, and everybody listens. If money is the mother's milk of politics, it's the whipping cream of presidential politics.
Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts and this week's Republican hottie, said yesterday that his campaign raised nearly $21 million in the first quarter of this year, the most raised by any Republican candidate, and for anybody keeping score (and everybody is), that's more than Rudolph W. Giuliani ($15 million), and way more than John McCain ($12.5 million). The Giuliani campaign raised two-thirds of that in March alone.
Even that's not nearly as much as Hillary Rodham Clinton's $26 million. She may need it more. She must deal with a flavor of the week threatening to last for months and dispatch Barack Obama to the depths of the sea of voter indifference before he becomes so inevitable that it would be "insensitive" to consider anyone else. Or maybe even sacrilegious: A statue of Obama as Christ went on display only this week at the Chicago Art Institute. (Would a President Obama breach the wall between church and state?)
Hillary's insoluble problem is that she's not Bill, and try as she might she can't find a way to become even a reasonable facsimile of him. A text-change operation won't do, as her shifting positions on the Iraq war demonstrate. Bill himself, before now used reluctantly, has been assigned fundraising duties. Nobody milks campaign cows like ol' Bill. Nobody turns down an invitation to the milking barn. Women go giggly and ga-ga, and men want to see for themselves why they dare not leave their wives and daughters unattended in the presidential presence. Everybody leaves the party poorer. (It's a Hot Springs thing.)
"He's warm, she's not," says Dick Morris, the sometime political consultant who has worked for both and saved the fortunes of both. "He's charismatic. Her circumstances are charismatic, but she clearly is not. Bill is intuitive. Hillary's lips move as she dances each step is right, but there is no innate sense of rhythm or beat. ... Hillary has only two gears, "park" and "straight ahead."
Sending Bill out as her surrogate obviously comes with risks. This reminds everyone that what they'll get is something they really don't want. She reminds men of the shrill, strident ex-wife (or the wife they wish was the ex). But, like the strident ex of marital lore, she needs the money.
The Clintons know how to squeeze. "It's almost like a shakedown," Jim Neal, a North Carolina investment banker, tells the New York Times. "You're with us, or you're not. I just find the squeeze, this early, to be quite vulgar. This idea you should try to K.O. other candidates simply by overwhelming them with the amount of money you have in the bank. It's a bullying tactic."
Maybe, though that's an odd complaint from a banker, who ought to know a thing or two about the squeeze play, and you don't expect to find even a dabbler in politics offended by vulgarity. A fool and his money are soon parted and all that, and Mr. Neal admits that he voted for John Kerry. But bullying is the name of the fundraising game.
Risky or not, bullying donors is necessary to protect Hillary as "the inevitable nominee." Recent public-opinion polls sound an ominous note. The candidate with the highest negatives almost anyone has ever seen suffered a favorability drop among Democratic primary voters in recent days, from 82 percent to 74 percent. That's not a full swoon, but it's worrisome because the only reason the campaign can find for it is that the more the public sees of her, there's more not to like.
If she loses the aura of "the inevitable nominee" she's done for, and nobody knows that better than Bill, to whom she represents his third term. It's his way around the constitutional bar to running again, and if the Arkansas traveler can't find something to run for, he's done for. Raising $26 million in three months warms the heart as well as stuffs the pocket.