"How do we beat the bitch?"
That was the question posed to presidential candidate John McCain recently at a campaign stop in South Carolina. Far from being deterred by such a personal attack in a public venue, McCain and the crowd laughed, with McCain having the wipe tears from his eyes to keep from laughing too much.
Some complained that McCain didn't scold the questioner. But what could he do? He was in a room full of wingnuts who not only didn't mind the characterization, but believe it with every fiber of their being. He would have been tarred and feathered if he had defended the honor of his fellow senator any more than he did.
With the presidential race heading ever faster into the sewer of name-calling, this shouldn't stick out. With shock columnist Ann Coulter getting away with calling candidate John Edwards a faggot, it's hard to be stunned by much anymore. I'm sure there are plenty of Democrats with some choice descriptions for GOP candidates.
But what is different is the visceral hatred conservatives have for Hillary Clinton. She is their boogie monster for every evil they see in the world. They have accused her of everything from lying to murder, and warn that the world will literally explode if she is elected.
There's a lot of reasons to not support Clinton for president. But it seems as if more than a few of these wingnuts have shed all illusions of rationality in their hatred of the dreaded Hillary.
What's so funny about this state of affairs is that once you get past all the foaming-at-the-mouth hatred and take a look at the issues, Clinton is the Democratic candidate closest to the Republicans.
Her position on the Iraq war is to pull some troops out, but probably keep a good number in the country. Her health care plan, despite all the warnings about socialized medicine, will likely be so filled with giveaways to the industry that nothing will really change. She's so ambiguous on most issues that she could probably run as a Republican with very few changes. Well, except for the sex change, since the Republicans obviously have a problem with "bitches."
This is why the Hillary campaign is so hard to judge. Her negative poll numbers have hovered in the dangerous mid-40 range, meaning that she would have to win over almost everyone else to have a chance to win. That is why she has embarked on a mission to re-introduce herself to the nation, which is very hard to do. Once people start viewing you as a bitch, it's hard to go anywhere but down from there.
Issue-wise, Clinton is pretty much dead center with the country. Unfortunately, campaigns aren't about issues. It's about projecting strength and leadership, being tough and not backing down. But these are just the kind of qualities that a significant number of American voters think makes a woman a bitch.
But this far out, it's hard to say these negatives will sink Hillary. The leading GOP candidate right now looks like it will be fellow New Yorker Rudy Giuliani. It's going to be a little hard for the thrice-married mayor with the mob-connected sidekick to attack Clinton's character. But then, no one thought a draft dodger like George W. Bush would get away with attacking John Kerry's war record the last time around.
A recent poll of New York City voters shows Hillary not only beating Giuliani, but more than doubling his support, 55 to 27 percent. These are the same voters who twice elected Giuliani and know him best.
And maybe that's the problem. They know him as more than just the guy who stood around looking important after 9/11. They know him as the guy who rather stupidly located the city's emergency response center inside the main terrorism target in the city, the World Trade Center. They know him as the mayor who failed to get NYC firefighters radios that work on the same frequency, a mistake that cost many lives on that fateful day.
But he does have that image of the Hero of 9/11, and Hillary Clinton is "the bitch." Will those images remain unchanged?
Once Americans get to know Rudy, and get reintroduced to Hillary, who will they vote for? I'm not keen on either, and it may be that wildcard that dooms them both.