Clinton Critic Falls Weak on Logic

By John F. Harris
Tuesday, July 4, 2006

Can She Be Stopped?

Hillary Clinton Will Be the Next President of the United States Unless . . .

John Podhoretz

Crown Forum, 254 pp. $27

Among certain Democratic Party strategists, the great fear about Hillary Rodham Clinton is that she is popular enough with party activists to win the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008 but too polarizing with everyone else to win the presidency.

Conservative writer John Podhoretz, by contrast, is afraid that Republican voters will make precisely the same assumption. Snap out of it, he urges his fellow partisans, and realize that New York's junior senator is not too polarizing to win. In fact, in an era of angry politics, her divisive persona may work to her advantage.

It was this anxiety that led him to write "Can She Be Stopped?" Yes, he answers, but only if his ideological confederates stop being so complacent about the threat. Thus his subtitle: "Hillary Clinton Will Be the Next President of the United States Unless . . ."

The book is an emblem of our irritable age. Podhoretz, a columnist for the New York Post, makes no pretense of trying to convince anyone who may disagree with him, or even anyone with a neutral view. Instead, he addresses only that segment of Americans who dislike Clinton and respond by thinking and arguing about her as compulsive entertainment.

That segment is plenty big enough to fuel a successful book. For whatever reason, it did not happen. Podhoretz's book came out a couple of months ago, and fell flat.

Podhoretz, who had an earlier bestseller that hailed the leadership of President Bush, must be pondering the vagaries of the publishing industry. Beats me. As someone who for professional reasons has read a fair number of anti-Clinton tracts, I can testify that this one is better written and at least on the surface more plausible than many that sold far better.

Whatever. One guesses Podhoretz did not spend a long time writing it, and most people will not need more than a few hours to read it. The book is relentlessly contentious, occasionally clever, but ultimately incoherent.

The effect is a little like listening to someone hold forth at a dinner party as the wine flows and the evening drags on. One imagines his wife -- a "Northern liberal," the author confides -- shooting looks across the table and urging him to let someone else get a word in. And Podhoretz may well have slept on the couch after delivering lines such as:

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2006 The Washington Post Company