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Long Division

Dick Scaife: Uniter

Last week, Pittsburgh got a visit from a politician with the rare ability to transcend partisan divisions, and to remind us that -- no matter what our political differences -- Americans share a vision of a Shining City on the Hill.

I'm talking, of course, about Hillary Clinton.

While Barack Obama visited Oakland's Soldiers & Sailors Hall on March 28, Clinton was bewitching Pittsburgh Tribune-Review publisher Richard Mellon Scaife. Yes, that's right: The architect and arch-fiend behind what Clinton herself called a "vast right-wing conspiracy" is apparently quite taken with his onetime adversary. And the proof is a March 30 column Scaife wrote for his paper.

Titled "Hillary, Reassessed," the column notes that "Clinton has been criticized regularly, often harshly, by the Trib. We disagreed with many of her policies and her actions." That actually whitewashes the antagonism: Scaife doesn't mention the Trib's role in spreading scurrilous rumors about the death of President Bill Clinton's aide Vince Foster, for example.

But Scaife and Clinton have a lot in common by now. For one thing, Scaife's marriage is a public joke too, thanks to an ugly divorce profiled in a recent jaw-dropping Vanity Fair story. Among the story's more delicious highlights: Scaife's estranged wife "once kicked Dick in the crotch ... and his testicles swelled to such a size that he had to be taken to the emergency room."

Even so, for Scaife to sit down with Clinton after all his paper has done ... well, let's just say the swelling must be persistent. As for Clinton, "Walking into our conference room ... took courage and confidence," Scaife enthuses. What's more, she "exhibited an impressive command of many of today's most pressing ... issues."

It's almost touching how surprised the old goat seems. Every publisher makes the mistake of believing his own newspaper now and then, but still -- does anyone not know Clinton is smart, and that she doesn't back down?

You'd think Obama supporters would laud Clinton's willingness to meet with, and even charm, an old enemy. Just two days before Scaife's article came out, Obama earned rousing cheers in Oakland by pledging to negotiate with leaders we don't agree with. But when Clinton did just that, some Democratic partisans treated her like ... well, like Tribune-Review op-eds used to do.

Daily Kos, the popular liberal blog, thundered that Clinton was selling herself out. "The only thing more astonishing, and debasing" than the possibility that Scaife might give Clinton the Trib's endorsement, the blog panted, "is the fact that Hillary apparently sought it. ... She could be revealed to have had a prior career as the featured performer in a Tijuana donkey show and emerge with more dignity than what she has now."

So much for Democrats challenging NAFTA: We're even shipping off to Mexico for insults now. But given Scaife's previous shenanigans, I too suspect the worst. Perhaps Scaife, like Rush Limbaugh and others, is trying to help Clinton in the primary because he thinks she'll be easier to defeat in the fall?

More likely, Scaife is simply tottering off into a genteel senility, when it's as difficult to remember old grudges as it is to recall where you left the Polident. But the bigger question is: If I don't believe that Dick Scaife can rise above his hatred for Hillary Clinton, how can I expect other right-wingers to roll over for Barack Obama?

A big part of Obama's appeal, like that of Republican John McCain, is his promise to transcend politics-as-usual, to rise above red-state/blue-state differences. But believing he can do so doesn't just require trusting Obama; it means trusting that the GOP and their partisans want to transcend politics as well. As someone who came of age during the Reagan years, it's hard for me to do that. Even assuming Obama could heal the nation's wounds, the GOP has done very well by reopening them whenever possible. (Just ask Bill Clinton, who actually did try to govern as a centrist, no matter what the Trib used to say.)

Obama's rhetoric often presumes that partisan divisions don't really exist; Clinton's often suggests those divisions are all that matter. So we've transcended partisanship largely by feuding within our own party. The result is that in both camps, a sizable minority of supporters say that if the other Democrat wins the nomination, they'd rather vote for McCain in November. Which would be ironic as hell. Because the one thing every Democrat should believe after reading Scaife's column is: These people haven't suffered nearly enough.

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