We have learned that Hillary Rodham Clinton’s White House years were scheduled to the minute, studded with meetings and photo opportunities. But after her health-care fiasco, there were few policymaking sessions.
We now know that Barack Obama will not disavow his preacher, who out of anger asked God to “damn” America.
We have heard John McCain say wrongly, in apparent confusion, that Iran’s Shiites are helping train Sunni-backed al Qaeda forces to launch attacks in Iraq. After prodding from Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., McCain amended his argument to charge Iran with helping “extremists” demoralize Iraq.
What is a voter to make of all this?
It means we are lucky we don’t have to vote tomorrow. We might say “a pox on all their houses.”
Clinton’s White House years were busy and anguished, as we know since we were along for the ride. The newly released 11,046 pages of her schedules as first lady, however, do not bolster her oft-stated claim that she should be president because of her experience during that time. There is little evidence that she participated in foreign-policy meetings or set the domestic agenda.
She obviously told her husband what she thought about many issues. But her schedule does not reveal unusual efforts in getting the Family and Medical Leave Act passed, determining NATO’s role in the Balkans or responding to the terrorist bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa.
Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was President Jimmy Carter’s national-security adviser, said on MSNBC that the Democratic New York senator’s claim of presidential experience because she was first lady should be put in context by asking a question: How would the nation have reacted to Mamie Eisenhower’s running for president because of her voluminous experience as Ike’s wife during tumultuous times?
Meanwhile, Obama’s tribulations have stemmed from sermons a majority of Americans found to contain repugnant, anti-American comments by the former minister of his church, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright, who married the Obamas and baptized their daughters. The Illinois senator’s eloquent speech in Philadelphia about race relations in America notwithstanding, many Americans remain angry that the Democrat refuses to sever ties with Wright.
Obama repudiated Wright’s comments that America’s own actions led to terrorist attacks such as 9/11, but in doing so stressed that blacks and whites in America still think about race in fundamentally different terms. Americans who were searching for reasons not to vote for Obama now will cite his ties to Wright.
This is the first major crisis of Obama’s dynamic quest for the presidency. His attempt to turn the uproar into an exploration of the continuing damage that racism causes was admirable, but it will not be enough to dispel the rancor over Wright.
McCain’s problem the same week came from his awkward gaffe, made in the Middle East and repeated, that Sunni al Qaeda operatives are being helped by Shiites in Iran to make terrorist attacks in Iraq. They hate each other.
The Republican senator from Arizona will never make that mistake again. But the damage stems from fear that his age will be a serious factor in November. He would be 72 upon taking the oath of office of president, the oldest person ever elected to a first White House term.
The misstatement, unfortunately for McCain, brought to mind President Gerald Ford’s comment during a crucial debate with Carter in 1976 that there was no Soviet dominance of Eastern Europe. While the Berlin Wall did fall 13 years later, Ford’s statement was clearly untrue at the time and caused him great embarrassment.
None of the dustups — over the ex-first lady’s tea-and-courtesy-call meanderings at home and abroad, the pastor’s vitriolic posturing and the warrior’s verbal wandering — is fatal. Any one of the three senators could be elected president.
But we now see we have more to learn about them. And as we decide how to vote, we’ll have to make compromises.
(Scripps Howard columnist Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986. E-mail amcfeatters(at)nationalpress.com.)