Hillary in 2012? It could happen

The resurrection of Hillary Clinton as a potential president may now be taking place. Hard to believe, but a Rasmussen poll released Tuesday showed the former first lady, U.S. senator and now secretary of state is viewed as more qualified to be president than the current occupant of the White House, who came from nowhere to beat her out for the Democratic nomination in 2008.

Both she and President Obama are thought to be more qualified for the job than three Republicans who have expressed interest in it. Ms. Clinton, according to this poll, is thought to be qualified by 57 percent of the voter respondents, while 34 percent say she is not. As for the president, 51 percent think him qualified for the job he has held for the last year and a half, while 44 percent disagree.

Republican Mitt Romney is close behind with 49 percent saying the former Massachusetts governor is qualified and 32 percent thinking not. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Alaska governor and 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin trail far behind.

It was widely thought to have been a wise political move when Mr. Obama made his 2008 rival secretary of state, since that would make her by definition a supporter of the Obama presidency, which now however, seems to be in the midst of a great unraveling. Is it likely that this president would be challenged in a primary fight if he seeks a second term? No. Is it possible? Sure, if the president's popularity continues to fall.

As I mentioned a couple weeks ago in this space, the more likely thing — as hard as it might be to believe right now — is a decision by the president not to seek another four years in office. Lyndon Johnson stepped aside in '68 and Harry Truman in '52, simply because they knew they couldn't win the upcoming election. Unpopular wars did them in.

Which brings us to the current, increasingly unpopular war in Afghanistan and the remarks attributed to General Stanley McChrystal, the American commander there, and his merry band of intimates who dubbed themselves "Team America."

As you know, "Stan the Man," as his acolytes call him, is portrayed in a Rolling Stone magazine profile as "The Runaway General," a man author Michael Hastings says "is always open to new ways of killing" — and is also contemptuous of his civilian bosses. One subordinate is quoted as saying that the general always kept his eye on the real enemy, the "wusses in the White House." The civilian PR man who arranged for Rolling Stone's access to Stan the Man and his merry band of thugs was "asked to resign." General McChrystal was called back to Washington for a face-to-face dressing down. He apologized to several of those he had insulted and offered his resignation, which the president accepted.

The story created such a sensation it deflected attention away from the ever-expanding disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. It's been likened to the insubordination that prompted President Truman's firing of Gen. Douglas MacArthur during the Korean War, an act that led the way toward the terrible approval ratings resulting in Truman going home to Missouri rather than running for reelection.

Whatever Mr. Obama did with his theater commander was bound to be highly criticized. It represents yet another in a cascading set of circumstances that seem to have reduced the president to being a witness to his own diminishment. He certainly has discovered by now that rhetorical skills, while helpful to winning elections, are not sufficient in exercising executive power, cannot turn around an economy in shambles, cannot stop the BP leak and cannot make people believe the opposite of what they see and experience in their own lives.

If this president continues to stumble and his party is smashingly repudiated in November, it wouldn't surprise me to see Hillary Clinton ride to the rescue in 2012. Meanwhile, the Republicans have quite the job ahead themselves: to see if they can nominate someone electable. Surely they've learned not to select hacks like Bob Dole or John McCain. Haven't they?

Ron Smith can be heard weekdays, 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., on 1090 WBAL-AM and WBAL.com. His column appears Fridays in The Baltimore Sun. His e-mail is rsmith@wbal.com

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