By Cal Thomas
Tribune Content Agency
Prior to his annual steak fry, retiring Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said this about Hillary Clinton to Dan Balz of The Washington Post: "... she is much more progressive in her thoughts and her inclination than most people may think."
Liberals have embraced the word "progressive" because it sounds more forward-looking than "liberal," which has a track record voters periodically reject when the ideology doesn't live up to its declared goals (think Hubert Humphrey, George McGovern, Michael Dukakis, John Kerry, John Edwards and Al Gore, among others).
There is much we know about Hillary Clinton by whatever label she chooses to wear or hide behind. She has been in the national spotlight for more than two decades and most people have already decided what they think of her.
A Wall Street Journal/NBC News Poll indicates the substantial obstacles Mrs. Clinton must overcome should she run for president. Forty-one percent of those polled have a negative view of her; 43 percent have a positive view and just 16 percent are neutral.
That is a very high negative with which to begin a presidential campaign and the political ads haven't even hit the airwaves.
The Wall Street Journal's Peter Nicholas touched at the heart of Mrs. Clinton's problem when he wrote: "Some Democrats who backed other candidates in the state's caucuses in 2008 say they haven't yet warmed to Clinton. Others bristled at her recent criticism of President Barack Obama's Mideast policy ... some say they want to see a more accessible and authentic candidate than the one who finished third behind Mr. Obama and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina (in 2008)."
That warmth and accessibility is a problem for her. She is not perceived as having, "the milk of human kindness by the quart in every vein," as Henry Higgins said of himself in the musical My Fair Lady.
If Ronald Kessler's new book In the President's Secret Service, a behind-the-scenes look at the elite protective agency and the president's inner circle, is to be believed, Mrs. Clinton treated her Secret Service detail so badly that some agents told him to be assigned to her was regarded as "a form of punishment."
The other problem is her record. Neither she, nor her most ardent defenders, are able to come up with anything substantive she did as first lady (Hillarycare failed to get through a Democratic Congress), senator (mostly forgettable legislation and resolutions, other than her voting to give President Bush authority to conduct the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq) or as secretary of state where she failed to "reset" relations with Russia, advance Middle East peace and adequately protect the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, which led to the deaths of the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.
An indication of how difficult it will be to sell Mrs. Clinton as a competent president comes from a column by Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times, who tries his best to create a positive record for her: "Clinton achieved a great deal and left a hefty legacy -- just not the traditional kind. ... For starters, Clinton recognized that our future will be more about Asia than Europe."
This is hardly breaking news.
Kristof added: "More fundamentally, Clinton vastly expanded the diplomatic agenda. Diplomats historically focused on 'hard' issues, like trade or blowing up stuff, and so it may seem weird and 'soft' to fret about women's rights or economic development."
At a time when our enemies are not just "blowing up stuff," but beheading journalists and aid workers, "hard issues" are increasingly important.
Opponents may wish to ask the same question Mrs. Clinton asked of Barack Obama in 2008. Who do you want to answer that "3 a.m. phone call"?
Should a strong Republican candidate emerge, it should be obvious.