Sticky Wicket

Recent polls show that Democrats are more disturbed by Hillary Clinton's "mistake" (repeated twice since December, even after correction) about dodging sniper fire in Bosnia than by Barack Obama's twenty year ties to a racist pastor. The reason is that negative news sticks to a candidate only if it jibes with what we already believe.

Barack Obama does not appear to be a racist. While his best-selling memoir Dreams from My Father recounts the early influence of black separatists like Malcolm X, and while Obama's wife sometimes seems to be filled with racial resentment, Obama credibly projects himself as a leader who will bridge the  divide.

I once wrote that Obama actually transcended racism, as Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice have, since their credentials and accomplishments in Washington have little or nothing to do with race. However, partly because the Clinton campaign repeatedly has made race an issue, and partly because of his ties to Reverend Wright, Obama could not continue to speak beyond race. Starting in Philadelphia last month he had to confront the issue head on. Yet many people feel he's now stronger for having done that - at least among Democrats.

The Bosnia account stuck with Hillary Clinton because many voters already saw her as someone willing to stretch the truth - indeed, someone whose entire political career is based on exaggeration.

Contrary to myth, Clinton's law career in Little Rock was not remotely comparable in stature to those of, say, Janet Reno or Ruth Bader Ginsburg, but was instead marred by nepotism and charges of corruption. Hillary Clinton became nationally known during her husband's 1992 presidential campaign when she stood by him on 60 Minutes regarding the Gennifer Flowers affair. She was given (some claim she was rewarded with) responsibility for reforming the nation's health care system. Her plan, written with a few trusted aides behind closed doors, failed miserably and was blamed in large part for Democrats losing control of Congress for the first time in forty years.

Several biographers claim that - far from being co-president -- Hillary then lost most of her political influence, at least until Bill needed her again during the Paula Jones-Monica Lewinsky impeachment crisis. Hillary Clinton then ran for the U.S. Senate from New York, a state in which she had never lived. She has been an effective legislator, especially when it comes to securing earmarks. But like Barack Obama, she has not yet come close to achieving the influence of Nancy Pelosi, Dianne Feinstein -- or John McCain.

Hillary Clinton's mantra is "35 years of experience" and a readiness "from day one" to be commander in chief. But -- as with her disputed claims of opposing NAFTA, shepherding SCHIP and making peace in Northern Ireland - the Bosnia tale reinforced existing doubts.

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