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A Hillary Clinton guessing game

September 18, 2007 |  6:28 pm

Who is Hillary Clinton?

She's been in the public spotlight--unrelentingly so, at times--since 1992. She's been the subject of numerous profiles and books, including two recent, well-publicized biographies. Yet, more so than with most major political figures, there lingers an enigmatic, removed quality about her. Early this year, Mark Penn, her chief strategist, wrote a public memo in which he asserted that to many voters, Clinton was "famous but really unknown."

Today, an intriguing juxtaposition of columns in the Washington Post by two national syndicated writers only adds to confusion about her.

E.J. Dionne Jr., in musing about the rollout this week of her healthcare plan, sees much to admire in Clinton's rueful recollections of the more ambitious--and politically disastrous--proposal she pushed as first lady. He concludes that in her battle for the White House, "It could turn out that Clinton's strongest argument is that someone who is aware of her own shortcomings, laughs about them and works at them has the character to be president."

In a piece laid out directly below Dionne's, Richard Cohen reflects on Clinton's response--or lack thereof--to MoveOn.org's now-notorious "General Betray Us" ad and finds her sorely lacking. He writes: "The issue with Hillary Clinton is not whether she's smart or experienced but whether she has ... the character to be president." Clearly, he's a skeptic on that count.

So which depiction is on the money? More to the point, which one will the majority of Americans accept? On that, the ultimate outcome of the 2008 campaign may well pivot.

-- Don Frederick

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