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Hillary's Big Misstep!

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Even her severest critics have been forced to concede that New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential front-runner in all national polls, has been a commanding presence in the candidate debates. Composed, articulate, knowledgeable and confident, she has been in a year when voters prize strong leadership — in the judgment of National Catholic Reporter columnist Raymond Schroth — often the most "manly" contender on the stage.

But in the last minutes of Wednesday night's MSNBC debate at Dartmouth College, Hillary Clinton committed a major misstep. Moderator Tim Russert asked her whom she would root for in a 2007 World Series between the hometown team of her childhood, the Chicago Cubs, or the New York Yankees, who play in her adopted state. Clinton bobbed and weaved until Russert put it directly to her: "But who would you be for?" Then, in a totally triangulating and unsatisfying formulation, she tried to split the difference: "I guess I would have to alternate."

Forget Michigan governor and 1968 Republican presidential George Romney's impolitic admission that he had been "brainwashed" on Vietnam. Forget Maine Senator and 1972 Democratic presidential front-runner Edmund Muskie's emotional lashing out (with or without tears) in reaction to the false smears published against him and his wife by New Hampshire conservative editor William Loeb. The 2007 Democratic front-runner, with that one vacuously evasive answer — "I guess I would have to alternate" — has revealed her true self. She is not a Democrat. Hillary Clinton remains a closet, corporate Republican.

The lovable, long-shot Cubs, who have not been in the World Series since the last year of World War II and who last won the World Series when Teddy Roosevelt was in the White House 100 years ago, against the Yankees, the swaggering, deep-pocketed overdogs that have since 1921 bought or won 39 American League championships and 26 World Series.

For any authentic Democrat, the choice is both simple and obvious. The Chicago Cubs are undersized David, while the New York Yankees are the bullying Goliath. It's in Democrats' DNA — they viscerally identify with and back underdogs.

You don't "alternate" when you're a fan. You root for your guys and against theirs.

To put it in political terms, the Cubs are not even George McGovern or Walter Mondale or Alf Landon, three major-party presidential nominees who among them carried a total of just nine states. No, the Cubs are more like the darkest of dark horse third-party challengers: John Anderson, Norman Thomas, Bob LaFollette or Ross Perot. As the team's longtime announcer Harry Caray once asked, "What does a Mama bear on the pill have in common with the World Series?" Answer: "No Cubs."

Sorry, Sen. Clinton, but rooting for the Yankees is like rooting for Exxon, for the lions against the Christians, for the rich, spoiled boss's son against the blue-collar orphan who worked his way through night school. To be a Yankees fan means you root for the unforgiving, absentee landlord against the tenants, shivering in January or sweltering in July; you root for the tornado against the family in the trailer park.

Not only is it morally indefensible to choose the Yankees over the Cubs, it is politically dumb. All of us have some relative, neighbor or friend who has joined the legions of Yankee-haters who despise New York's "Evil Empire." But I have never once encountered a Cub-hater. Have you?

The Cubs are in Chicago, the capital of "fly-over" America, a region with which Democrats and liberals have had considerable trouble connecting. The Yankees are in deep blue New York on the East Coast. Democrats desperately need the Midwest, and the Midwest — including all-important Iowa — in a 2007 match-up involving Chicago and New York would be overwhelmingly Cubs territory.

Hillary Clinton has stumbled badly. Can she recover from this terminal character defect of being unable to root unconditionally for the Cubs and against the Yankees? For her campaign's sake, she had better hope so.

To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.

DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS SYNDICATE INC.

COPYRIGHT 2007 MARK SHIELDS



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