By MAUREEN DOWD
Or, rather, it’s back on.
Rudy versus Hillary, a New York steel-cage match pitting two eye-gouging, hair-pulling, kick-em-till-they’re-dead brawlers.
For months, Hillary’s comely male rivals for the Democratic nomination have tiptoed around her, letting their wives take shots at the front-runner.
Barack Obama looks wary when he’s on stage with Hillary, but Michelle stepped up: “Some women feel it’s a woman’s turn, you know? They just feel like it’s Hillary’s turn. That, I reject, because democracy isn’t supposed to be about whose turn it is.”
That followed Elizabeth Edwards’s takedown of Hillary: “She’s just not as vocal a women’s advocate as I want to see. John is.”
Obama and Edwards probably figured the criticism would sound less Lazio coming from their wives. But it just made them seem as though they were hiding behind their wives’ skirts.
Enter Rudy. He may wear skirts, but he’s not afraid to take down a skirt.
He put up an ad Friday on his campaign Web site slamming her as a hypocrite for running an antiwar campaign after supporting the president on the authorization for war.
Obama has been trying to make this point for quite a while, but so gingerly that every time he sneaks up on it, Hillary surges ahead.
Rudy doesn’t do ginger.
Hillary has been trying to Rudy-up, corralling ground zero and playing the fear card, saying that if there were a terrorist attack before the election, only she could stop Republicans from keeping the White House. But Rudy aims to de-Rudy her. His ad is an instant cult classic, with a solemn trumpet that is reminiscent of “Taps” and a narrator who sounds like the guy who does trailers for “In a World Gone Wrong” disaster flicks.
Just when Hillary was basking in her reinvention of herself, Rudy sprang out of the Republican primary shadows and shoved her back.
He ignores her attempts to be New Hillary, a senator who loves men in uniform, who is not afraid to use military power, and who is tough enough to deal with bin Laden. He recasts her as Old Hillary, a Code Pink pinko first lady and opportunist from a White House that had a reputation for having a flower-child distaste for the military, a left-wing shrew who made a secret socialist health care plan and let gays into the military and certainly can’t be trusted to fight the jihadists.
“In 2002,” the white words flash on a black screen, “Hillary Clinton voted to authorize military action in Iraq because she believed it was the right thing to do.”
Then it goes to a clip of Hillary speaking on the Senate floor during the war authorization debate that Obama has been too refined to highlight.
“If left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capacity to wage biological and chemical warfare and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons,” she said, an echo of Condi. “He has also given aid and comfort and sanctuary to terrorists, including Al Qaeda members. So it is with conviction that I support this resolution as being in the best interests of our nation.”
Then the narrator intones, “But now that she’s running for president, Hillary Clinton has changed her position, even joining with the radical group MoveOn .org in attacking American General Petraeus” when she said it would require “a willing suspension of disbelief” to believe him.
“Just when our troops need all our support to finish the job, Hillary Clinton is turning her back on them,” the narrator concludes.
There are harsh images of Hillary, looking brittle in dark glasses, to go with the harsh words.
Rudy has decided that the best way to win his primary is to show he can beat the woman on the way to winning hers.
He can’t campaign on family values or the sanctity of marriage. He can’t whip up any fears on abortion or gays.
He can’t campaign on his plan to get out of Iraq because he doesn’t have one. He can’t campaign as the tough-guy heir to Bush because nobody likes Bush. He can’t campaign on attacking Iran because he’ll sound like crazy Dick Cheney.
He can’t campaign on the economy because he’s W. redux, facing a possible recession because of the mortgage crisis. He can’t campaign on Rudy’s from-the-mountaintop “12 Commitments” because no one knows what they are, and they don’t mention the word “Iraq.”
But he can be the only man in the field tough enough to slap around a woman.
The irony is that if you could loosen up Hillary with a few Jack and gingers, she would probably be closer to her reinvention than to his caricature. She probably secretly supports the surge, knowing that after it sputters, she may reap the whirlwind. And then the Republicans, who have lied, stalled and mismanaged in every way imaginable, will paint her as Ms. Cut and Run, turning her back on the military again.