Senator Clinton and the 'yes, but' factor

Readers may have noticed that I don't comment much about domestic politics.

That's because in the volatile climate of today, no judgment about potential candidates is likely to stand up for very long. I make an exception for Sen. Hillary Clinton (D) of New York, who strikes me as the great political paradox of our time. I have admired her since the first time I heard her speak extemporaneously for three-quarters of an hour on a favorite subject, children, and since then, she has shown a grasp of many subjects. So, where's the paradox?

Well, you talk to people, and they generally express admiration for her, but then comes the "yes, but..." factor. A Washington Post/ABC poll indicates that as of now, about 6 in 10 Americans would consider supporting her for president and 4 in 10 have ruled her out. Does that make her the Democratic frontrunner? Well, yes. But in an earlier Gallop poll, 53 percent of respondents thought she would divide rather than unite the country.

Individual interviews show ambivalent feelings about Senator Clinton. A veteran Democratic voter in Iowa City says, "I hope she won't run, and I don't know whether I would support her." Another active Democrat says, "I don't quite understand why she is such a polarizing figure, but she is." And still another Iowa Democrat: "I don't think she could win. It would just keep the country split." In effect, many Democrats seem to be saying, "I would vote for her, but I think a lot of other people wouldn't."

That's what you call the "yes, but..." factor. Iowa Democrat Lloyd Jones may have said it all when he said, "Those of us who think she would be a great president are fearful of the viciousness of the attacks we anticipate the opposition would level against her."

And what do I think? Well, you're not going to get me to make any predictions about the chances of this first-class politician with a social conscience.

Daniel Schorr is the senior news analyst at National Public Radio.

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