The strange side effects of presidential disease


The late Rep. Morris "Mo" Udall, an Arizona Democrat, used to say that embalming fluid was the only real cure for politicians with presidential disease. He had it, too, in 1976, when he lost to Jimmy Carter, so he knows all about its potency.

Udall, who wrote a book titled Too Funny to Be President, may have been making a joke, but we're seeing evidence of the disease this year.

The leading candidates of both parties for the 2008 campaign, at least in terms of name identification and money-raising prowess, are both senators: Republican John McCain of Arizona and Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York. (McCain, incidentally, was a friend of Mo Udall's. Too bad Mo isn't still here to give him some advice about blatant pandering.)

McCain and Clinton are currently doing things politically that the rest of us mortals have difficulty understanding. They are making nice with people who have blistered them in the past. No explanation can hide the fact that both are taking a rather cynical route to the White House.

McCain went to Liberty College in Lynchburg, Va., to deliver the commencement address earlier this month. Liberty is the school attached to the hip of Jerry Falwell, the right-wing preacher. In the 2000 campaign, McCain and his Straight Talk Express campaign were highly critical of Falwell and conservative evangelicals, who were cheering wildly for George W. Bush and attacking McCain as an interloper.

McCain came across as a bold candidate, maverick if you like, who shunned the role of backslapper. He was also aware that the Bush forces in South Carolina were conducting a cruel primary campaign against him and his wife, Cindy.

In my mind, McCain would have been within his right to shun Bush forever when their paths crossed. The campaign was that vicious.

Clinton, meanwhile is going to a re-election fundraiser hosted by media magnate, the conservative Rupert Murdoch. The senator has nothing to fear this fall since the GOP in New York has almost handed her the office for another six years. So you have to assume she is stashing away much of the money for a costly presidential bid.

In the past, Murdoch and his tabloid, the New York Post, were always after President Bill Clinton for sins real or imagined. It was a nonstop attack. So Hillary Clinton would not need to be a profile in courage to tell Murdoch to take a hike with his fundraiser. But she turned the other cheek.

Surely some liberal followers must wonder if she has taken a flight from reality with this decision.

McCain and Clinton have demonstrated what Mo Udall warned against 30 years ago even as he was running for the White House: The disease can lead one to do strange things, even before one needs the embalming fluid.