Having their Cake and eating it too—what happens when Senators run for President

            The United States Senate is a body that has an amazing capacity for wanting to have it both ways.  For example, Social Security is doing fine, they say, but senators don’t pay into it; there’s a separate account that takes care of them when they retire.  So we, the public should believe that Social Security is good enough for us, but apparently it isn’t good enough for them.  Thus, it should be no surprise to the public that the three senators running for President in 2008 all have a certain area of their campaigns where they want to have it both ways.

            John McCain wants conservatives to believe he is one of them, yet he recently recited a list of liberal politicians he has worked with successfully.  He can make liberals happy, but he is still a true conservative, he argues. Why it might be okay: It’s conventional wisdom that candidates need to move at least a little bit towards the center to win the general election.  Why it might not: If McCain doesn’t have the trust and support of conservatives, he will not win.  Just ask Gerald Ford, Bob Dole, and the first George Bush during his run for re-election.  A key to success: Picking a genuinely conservative running mate might ease the minds of a lot of conservatives.

            Hillary and Bill Clinton have been complaining recently that she has been treated differently because she is a woman—she’s a victim of sexism.  But earlier in the campaign she was the one who made her sexuality an issue, as she talked about how some people would vote for her because they wanted to be part of the history of electing the first female president.  Why it might be okay: Her approval ratings went up when the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke, and Clinton unexpectedly won in New Hampshire after she cried in public.  The sympathy card seems to work for her.  Why it might not:  Given that the Clintons tried (with some success) to define Obama as simply the black candidate, it might strike some that she is simply on the receiving end of what she was dishing out.  A key to success: Mrs. Clinton might be out of keys, but it’s tough to write off a Clinton because they are such survivors.  At the very least, she might want to try another approach; this one doesn’t seem to have legs (no pun intended).

          Obama wants his wife campaigning, but he doesn’t want people criticizing her.  Why telling people to back off might work:  It seems gallant, and it distracts a little bit from the remarks she made that caused the controversy in the first place—remarks about her attitude towards America.  Why it might not work: Well, the idea of using her as a public campaigner, but saying that criticism of her is wrong because going after his family is getting too personal just might bother voters.  A key to success: If Obama wants his wife out of the line of fire, they might want to look at lowering her profile.

            Maybe we shouldn’t blame these candidates for wanting to have it both ways.  Maybe by tolerating some of Washington’s excesses we’ve spoiled them.