Not Sold On Clinton

By Robert D. Novak
Monday, February 12, 2007

The buzz in Democratic circles for the past two weeks has been over the decision to raise money for Sen. Barack Obama by two or three multimillionaire liberals from Hollywood who were thought to be supporting Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton for president. An explanation that this is the movie industry's delayed reaction to some of President Bill Clinton's policies is not credible. The real reason for the defection is more troubling for Clinton's campaign.

In fact, the Hollywood defections have the same root as resistance to Clinton's candidacy among less glittering Democratic activists throughout the country. A substantial number of them do not want to participate in a coronation of the former first lady because they still doubt her viability as a presidential candidate. They question both her positions on the issues and her skills on the campaign trail.

What's wrong with Clinton was demonstrated by the Feb. 4 performance on NBC's "Meet the Press" of a competitor, former senator John Edwards, who displayed the qualities she lacks. He took firm positions and admitted error, in contrast to Clinton's careful parsing. It followed his virtuoso performance at the Democratic National Committee meeting two days earlier that overshadowed Clinton's speech there. Comparing Clinton and Edwards, one longtime observer of the Democratic scene called it "caution versus courage."

For many months, long before Clinton confirmed that she was a candidate, her agents have been pinning down commitments from a staggering array of Democrats who were connected in large or small degree to her husband to create an aura of inevitability about her nomination. That effort hit a bump two weeks ago with the announcement that David Geffen, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Steven Spielberg, the founders of the DreamWorks film studios who all were thought to be staunch Clintonites, were sponsoring a fundraiser for Obama.

According to Democratic sources, former President Clinton got Spielberg to step away from a tacit endorsement of Obama. Spielberg has let it be known that he will host a future fundraiser for Clinton as part of a policy of helping all Democratic presidential candidates. But Katzenberg and Geffen seem to be clearly in Obama's camp.

Two theories for these defections have been put out by Democrats favorable to Clinton. First, the gay community in Hollywood is seeking revenge against Bill Clinton's "don't ask, don't tell" policy restricting open homosexuality in the military. Second, the entertainment industry still harbors resentment about Clinton-Gore administration criticism of the material that is presented to children.

But these explanations defy reality, in the opinion of Democrats not yet committed to any candidate. Hollywood, including the DreamWorks founders, was solidly behind Bill Clinton in 1996 and Al Gore in 2000.

The real reason for not desiring a Hillary coronation, as described to me by California Democrats, is resentment of her cautious sidestep rightward over the past six years. They still cannot get over her sponsorship in 2005 of legislation against flag burning. The whispered worry is that Clinton as the presidential nominee would be a loser in a year when the stars seem aligned for a Republican defeat.

What's wrong with Clinton was pointed out by Edwards in his "Meet the Press" performance. He not only said he was "wrong" about Iraq when he first supported the intervention, but he advocated universal health care and asserted: "Yes, we'll have to raise taxes." Clinton has hedged on each of these issues (as Edwards pointed out in the case of her stance on Iraq).

Edwards is not popular with the Democratic elite, who view him as a glib and shallow trial lawyer. They remember that he began his 2004 campaign for president as a centrist Southern Democrat in the Jimmy Carter-Bill Clinton mold, but after not getting anywhere he switched to left-wing populism. The viable alternative to Clinton may be Obama.

Nevertheless, Edwards's "courage" energized DNC members as Clinton's "caution" did not. The point is that many Democrats are voting no on a Hillary coronation.

© 2007 Creators Syndicate Inc.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company