Guest View: Obama, Clinton and the presidential threshold |

Guest View: Obama, Clinton and the presidential threshold

Michael Zucker

In her quest to wrest the Democratic presidential nomination from Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton has disingenuously suggested that there is a commander-in-chief threshold which only she and Republican John McCain have passed, and the Illinois senator has not.

This latest campaign tactic, like so many other transparent deficiencies of her decomposing effort to become our 44th president, adds to a building collection of evidence that Obama, not Clinton or McCain, is the most qualified candidate to hold the office.

Since early January, when the first cracks in Hillary’s ostensible wall of inevitability appeared, her campaign has been beset by a series of self-destructing faux pas.

Her commander-in-chief statement elevating McCain and herself over Obama is foolish. Furthermore, in this country the military is subservient to civilian authority; the framers decided that the commander-in-chief, the president, should be a civilian, and that in forming strategic decisions, political as well as military factors should be considered. Since Obama, rather than Clinton or McCain, has consistently opposed the Iraq war from the beginning and opposed the Kyl-Lieberman pro-Iran-war amendment, Obama has been right on these important foreign policy matters. Clinton and McCain have not. These are real tests for would-be commanders-in-chief.

But there are other components of a so-called presidential “threshold.” The Constitution mandates that the president “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” Clinton’s willingness to break rules when they are an impediment to her political goals makes one wonder whether she will be faithful to that constitutional principle.

For example, after originally acceding to the Democratic National Committee imposing penalties on the Michigan and Florida Democratic parties, denying them delegate votes because they had violated DNC rules, she wanted the votes counted anyway after it appeared their exclusion would threaten her nomination.

Being for the rules until they work against you is something like being for the Iraq war until public opinion turns against it. It smacks of being calculating and unprincipled. Perhaps that is why a Gallup Poll conducted March 14-16 shows that 66 percent of Americans rate Obama honest and trustworthy, while only 44 percent so rate Clinton.

But Obama has had his diversions, too.

Since ABC News first broke the story about his former pastor’s racial and anti-American sermons, his campaign faced the threat of being seriously derailed. He met the challenge March 18 by giving a soft-spoken but direct denunciation of those tirades. Despite forcefully repeating his own views about bridging racial and ethnic divides, it remains to be seen what the long-term impact of the pastor’s statements will have on Obama’s campaign. It should be noted, however, that Obama’s March 18 restatement of his commitment to unify the country has been widely praised by leading public figures across the political spectrum.

Obama’s sober handling of this political distraction is a much more convincing gauge of his ability to handle national crises than are Clinton’s recent implications of her opponent’s loyalty or patriotism. It is reminiscent of candidate John F. Kennedy facing Baptist ministers in 1960, directly answering their hard questions when the issue was concern about the Catholic Church’s influence over the conduct of his presidency. As that moment was for JFK, last week’s moment for Obama appears to represent another threshold crossing.

Hillary has been steadily losing the contest for pledged delegates since January’s Iowa caucus. Apparently unable to reverse the trend, she resorted to a string of negative campaign tactics. In late February, she became Rush Limbaugh’s candidate when he exhorted his followers to cross party lines and vote for her in the Texas and Ohio primaries. “We need Barack Obama bloodied up politically,” he said.

In that spirit, Clinton began executing her “kitchen sink” strategy. She launched her now-famous 3 a.m. ad, implying that she was better able than Obama to handle middle-of-the-night crisis telephone calls. She pushed her ridiculous commander-in-chief line. She refused to unequivocally deny that Obama was a Muslim.

Bill Clinton implied in a statement last Friday that Obama was not patriotic. Hillary has recently said that Obama would not be a legitimate candidate if Florida and Michigan did not revote their primaries. On Friday, a Clinton spokesman called New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson’s endorsement of Obama “too late to make an impact.”

These various campaign developments aside, the central story since the contest’s early days is that Obama has put together a masterfully organized campaign, disciplined with a solid strategy that has been executed methodically; Hillary Clinton’s campaign has been beset with internal bickering, poor planning, stop-gap measures and grab-bag tactics. The differences between the two campaigns are striking. In summary, they show that he has crossed the threshold to be a veritable and active chief executive. She’s still working on it.

– Michael Zucker is a South Lake Tahoe resident and an options broker with Regal Securities Inc.

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