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Thursday, Dec. 13, 2007

Something's not quite right about Hillary

LOS ANGELES — Hillary Rodham Clinton may well prove to be a great president of the United States, who knows? But as a presidential candidate she has a lot to be desired, and it's getting worse.

It is not just that on so many issues she hugs center stage, reminding me of little more than a walking fudge factory in three-inch pumps. That's perhaps nothing new. In America, after all, political candidates usually try to fog over all clarity so as not to alienate a single potential voter, while winking confidentially at core supporters to keep them loyal and motivated. No sense being naive about this.

And we certainly need to keep in mind that Clinton learned how to play all the politician's trick cards at the feet of one of the greatest political fog machines of all time: her husband Bill.

But on important issues, when you're trying to make up your mind whom to actually vote for, it would really help if she would take a sincere stand.

Take her recent retreat on global trade — her newfound doubts about the value of all free-trade deals. What a disgusting display of dime-store grandstanding.

Here's this woman who has been claiming that her experience in the White House makes her profoundly more qualified than her opponents for her party's nomination — and then she takes a brutally skeptical if not openly negative position on the need for a new wealth-creating global trade pact. In effect, her position on trade is now indistinguishable from that of any of the other unthinking Democratic candidates. It's sad and anger-making to watch Clinton beat an inelegant retreat from the enlightened free-trade policies of her husband.

Peter Mandelson, the European Union trade commissioner, expressed this well: "Her apparent skepticism about a Doha world trade deal and her suggestion that there is a need to shelter American companies from foreign investment are a disappointing sign of the times."

Ordinarily Americans do not welcome big-mouthed commentary about our presidential campaigns from politicians in Europe or elsewhere. We don't need their help in coming to our own conclusions. On the other hand, to be really fair, it is true that whomever we do put in the White House, the rest of the world is going to have to live with. And so if Clinton actually doubts the validity of her husband's steady and consistent vision on world trade, the rest of the world wants to know about it.

But the truth probably is that she probably doesn't believe a word of what she is saying. Clinton understands the issue of free trade; and perceptive Americans understand well that politicians will tend to demagogue any issue for votes.

Sure, people are losing jobs in this country — but for all sorts of reasons, not just competition from trade and outsourcing. A vigorous, competitive, non-insulated economy can create new jobs, and can provide training opportunities for those who have lost jobs. But you close up the economy, pull up the drawbridges (as North Korea did, for example) and then watch as all the wealth drains out of the society.

Clinton knows this, and that's why her demagoguery makes her more culpable than those buffoons around her. After all, the former first lady's claim of greater competence than her competitors permits us to hold her to a high standard.

Commissioner Mandelson again: "Politicians have a huge responsibility not to overstate the risks attached to open investment, because we have nothing to gain from a protectionist turn in global markets. That is why I would argue that Hillary Clinton's doubts about the value of a Doha trade deal are misplaced."

UCLA professor Tom Plate is a veteran journalist. Copyright Tom Plate 2007

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