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Political Animal

Madam Secretary

By Brian Morton | Posted 11/26/2008

There's something about Hillary Clinton.

Well, to be honest about it, there's something about what happens when the Clinton name itself enters the picture, whether it's the senator from New York or the former president. It makes editors get stupid, it makes national political columnists spin into paroxysms of foolishness, and it makes cable television pontificators start thinking out loud thoughts normally not found outside of support groups for people who believe they've been abducted by aliens.

Clinton advisor James Carville has famously described it as the "puke funnel," where all the craziest statements made from the farthest reaches of the right wing get channeled through people like Rush Limbaugh and Matt Drudge and end up in the mainstream newspapers and supposedly respectable cable outfits. And then a stuffy columnist like The Washington Post's David Broder gets to sniff huffily about the effect the Clintons have on the genteel bipartisan niceness of Washington and high-school drama reviewer Maureen Dowd of The New York Times gets to toss off another column full of cutesy diminutive nicknames where she acts as if she can read minds.

Let's remember that when Sen. Clinton made her decision to run for president, the august and supposedly liberal New York Times ran a piece on its front page resurrecting all the stories of the Clinton couple's sex life, ostensibly on the basis that because she was once again a prominent public figure, it was "news." Ron Fournier, the new Washington bureau chief of the Associated Press, an organization legendarily impartial in its charter, started out his tenure by writing a piece headlined "Slick Hillary" back in June, ascribing to her every possible negative archetype leveled at her husband by the right-wing cabal that spent eight years trying to drive the couple from Washington. It was later revealed that Fournier had been in discussions to join the press operation for Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign.

So the leak of the news that President-elect Barack Obama plans on naming Sen. Clinton as his secretary of state is creating a new spasm of glee in the Clinton-hating industry as predictable as the start of rush-hour traffic.

Chris Matthews of MSNBC turns into a spittle-flecked lunatic when the topic of the Clintons comes up--one could argue that by himself he might have turned the tide for the senator during the New Hampshire Democratic primary this past winter. Now the New York Post reports a bystander hearing Matthews waxing apoplectic upon hearing the Clinton-at-State rumor: "I don't understand it," Matthews supposedly bellowed. "Why would he pick her? I thought we were done with the Clintons. She'll just use it to build her power base. It's Machiavellian. And then we'll have Bill Clinton, too. I thought Obama didn't want drama. He'll have even more drama with her. She's just a soap opera. If he doesn't pick her, everyone will say she's been dissed again, we'll have to live through that again."

Speculation, of course, is always a menu item whenever dining at the open-24-hours all-Clinton diner. If you read or hear (and you most certainly have by now) questions about why she would leave a safe seat as a senator for New York for a job as secretary of state, here's the simplest answer, and the one you hear the most often from politicians getting out of the game: fundraising.

Begging for money for election campaigns is the most humbling, the most humiliating, the most uncomfortable, and the most boring job a politician has to do. It means two things: dancing along the fine line of ethics rules at parties designed to get people to give you money while not explicitly asking for it yourself, or sitting in a small, windowless room with a staffer, a telephone, and a long list of phone numbers to call, where you have to dial for dollars just like a minimum-wage telemarketer. No politician enjoys it, but no politician can afford not to do it given the insanely expensive elections (especially statewide elections in places like New York with expensive media markets) of the new millennium. Given the chance to get away from that and spend four and possibly eight years as a traveling policy wonk--quite likely Hillary Clinton's idea of heaven--it seems like a no-brainer.

So if Sen. Clinton moves to the State Department, turn on your television and hear the glee for yourself. After all, they'll always have the Clintons to kick around some more.

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