She's getting pounded by rivals in her own party on charges she's wishy-washy on Iraq and by Republicans who say she's prejudiced against the military. She's got a big funder who's so crooked she's giving back $850,000 and scrambling to make sure he's the only one with a criminal record. And through it all, Hillary Clinton is saying next to nothing.
The Big Week that was in Washington happened with Clinton playing bystander, though not an innocent one. With the congressional grilling of our top Iraq commander and President Bush starting to withdraw troops, the week shaped up as a watershed moment in the 2008 campaign. Yet except for a snippy speech she read to Gen. David Petraeus before she asked him and our ambassador inconsequential questions at a Senate hearing, the Democratic front-runner was mostly a no-show.
Even after Bush's crucial prime-time address, when most candidates rushed to give their take, Clinton offered only a lackluster printed statement. And ditto for her response after GOP tag-teamers Rudy Giuliani and John McCain bashed her for attacking Petraeus and not rebuking the radical MoveOn.org for its smear of him.
Sometimes it seems her main flack Howard Wolfson is really the senator, since he does most of her talking. You know, Sen. Wolfson said....
To say the cat's got Hillary's tongue doesn't begin to address the mystery of why someone who wants to be President can't speak spontaneously more often. When the goin' gets tough, Clinton sends out a messenger or a carefully crafted printed statement. Would the imperial candidate be an imperial President? Is the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain?
Wolfson - naturally, he spoke for her when I called argues that she talks with reporters often. Granted, she has chats with reporters in primary states about local issues and she has an occasional sitdown with her favorite friendlies at The New York Times. Sometimes reporters on the campaign trail can get close enough to shout out a question if they can fight through the autograph seekers, schoolchildren and Secret Service agents.
But Clinton hasn't had a full-scale press conference since last January, of the kind where she takes questions on virtually any subject from any reporter. It's the sort of thing that Bush now does about once a month and Clinton's hidey act seems to be unique among the major candidates.
Sometimes she goes to great lengths to make sure she doesn't get cornered. As Daily News Washington reporter Michael McAuliff wrote on his blog last week when the Norman Hsu fund-raising scandal was boiling over: "How much did Hillary Clinton not want to answer questions this afternoon? Usually, when she needs to, she can use her Secret Service detail's security concerns to shield herself from reporters." But with eight or nine reporters wanting to ask her questions, more muscle was needed, and it appeared. Wrote McAuliff, "Mysteriously, a phalanx of union men materialized just before her arrival and physically blocked reporters from getting close enough to ask a question."
Clinton, of course, is risk averse to a fault. She's got a big lead in the primary polls and probably can't be beat unless she beats herself. She greatly reduces the chances of that by avoiding anybody carrying a camera or a notebook.
But something is lost say, credibility when the candidate can't be bothered to answer tough questions or gives the impression she's afraid of them. For somebody who has a good shot of being President, it's time to start acting like one.
In that spirit, here are a few sample questions this inquiring mind wants to ask:
How many conversations have you had with con man Norman Hsu?
Where do you think he got the gazillions he gave Democrats?
What, if any, policies did he support or favors did he seek?
On Iraq, why did you say the troop surge was working in August, yet suggest Petraeus was lying about its gains?
You say you will bring the troops home and you voted to cut off funding, but also said you believe America needs to keep a force in Iraq to fight terrorists. Explain the contradiction.
What is your plan to defeat Al Qaeda in Iraq and elsewhere?