Hillary ’07 Battles Hillary ’93

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Want to unite the country? Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., has the answer -- or maybe it's just that she IS the answer.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's plan for universal healthcare allowed Democrats and Republicans to join forces for the day. All it took was one little (OK, $110 billion) healthcare plan by one particular presidential frontrunner to bring together the 2008 field.

Clinton's plan is "European-style socialized medicine" (Mitt Romney); straight out of Michael Moore's "Sicko" (Rudy Giuliani); an "imitation" advanced by a flawed saleswoman (John Edwards); inadequate and advanced by a flawed saleswoman (Barack Obama -- but how would he cover more people without requiring coverage?); and automatically bad because Clinton herself "set back our ability to move toward universal health care immeasurably" back in 1994 (a very aggressive Chris Dodd).

All the attention is a form of flattery; just about any other candidate would have had himself hospitalized (maybe even in Cuba) to be attacked like this when he offered his plan. The obsession with "Hillarycare 2.0" speaks to the control that Clinton exerts over the entire field, as the one person who at this moment looks like she has the best shot of being elected president (and who represents the match-up the Republican base craves the most).

"Obviously I've got a lot of experience in tackling this issue -- I've taken on all of these special interests for 15 years," Clinton, D-N.Y., told Diane Sawyer on ABC's "Good Morning America," rising above the attacks (as is her wont -- and her luxury). "The real issue is, who has the best plan? Who has the experience and the commitment of a lifetime to healthcare?"

This was going to happen whenever and however Clinton introduced her healthcare plan, but the other '08ers could not wait to weigh in yesterday. "Swift condemnations of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's healthcare plan Monday attested to her less enviable role as the No. 1 target for Republican attacks," writes the Los Angeles Times' Michael Finnegan. "GOP presidential candidates rarely mention Democrats in the race -- except to invoke with dread the prospect of another Clinton presidency."

The attacks from candidates in both parties feed an argument that's becoming a growing part of the Democratic debate: That Clinton is too polarizing a figure to govern effectively (if not to get elected in the first place). "The real battle will be convincing Democratic primary voters which candidate can actually turn his or her plan into reality," Time's Karen Tumulty writes. Clinton's rivals "aimed their own criticisms less at any aspect of her message than at the messenger herself."

Clinton is addressing (and spinning) her past failures in her rollout. She's launching a new ad today in New Hampshire and Iowa that describes the 1993-1994 failure thusly: "She changed our way of thinking when she introduced universal healthcare to America." (That's one way of putting it.)

Forget Hillary vs. Obama or Edwards or Giuliani or Romney -- the real battle is Hillary '07 vs. Hillary '93. "Hillary Clinton seemed more focused on distinguishing herself from herself Monday than from her opponents for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination," writes Thomas Beaumont of the Des Moines Register, who counted at least six references to her failed attempt as first lady in her speech yesterday.

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