The Republicans on Hillary

Obviously, I won't be voting in the Republican primary, so I watched the debate between the 10 contenders from a decidedly different perspective.

Could any of them beat my friend and the Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton?

And the good news, for me anyway, is that given what they had to say about the Clintons last night, they're using ammunition that's more than a decade old &

the equivalent of a lifetime in politics. Shooting with old blanks, you might say. Is this the best they can do?

The question was a giveaway: Would it be good for America to have Bill Clinton back living in the White House?

"You've got to be kidding," responded Mitt Romney, who has less of a chance of living in the White House, as things now stand, than the Clintons do.

"No, I'm not," the moderator responded. "His wife's running, haven't you heard?

It was an invitation to unload on Hillary.

And here's the amazing part: The men on that stage had nothing to say. They sounded like a bunch of guys carping about ancient history.

According to Senator Brownback, the problem with Hillary is that she didn't stand up for marriage. Come again? You mean, because she stayed with her husband, notwithstanding their troubles, unlike Republican frontrunners Rudy Giuliani (on his third marriage, after publicly trashing his second wife and taking his kids to court because they didn't want to stay overnight with him and his then-girlfriend) and John McCain (who had a public affair before marrying his second wife)?

In this crowd, Hillary Clinton is the "family values" candidate. At least her daughter will be campaigning for her, which is more than you can say about Rudy's kids.

Senator Brownback's answer wasn't much better. "No," he said, because "where you have been is where you're going to go. And Hillary Clinton tried to socialize medicine in this country &

a very bad idea."

Remember Hillary Healthcare? Actually, many people don't. It's been almost 15 years. And many of those who do remember it now understand they would have been better off under Hillary's plan than they are now. As for going back to the 1990s, if you can remember it, you'll remember how much better things were in the country, and how much more respected we were in the world. In the '90s, there was peace in the world, and a strong and growing economy at home. And budget surpluses. If it hadn't been for the Republicans making a federal case of Monica Lewinsky, we might have accomplished even more. Compared to George Bush's mistakes, Bill Clinton was a model of perfection.

It gets worse, or better, depending on your perspective.

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who claimed to know the Clintons better than anyone else on the stage, couldn't come up with a single, specific reason why Hillary shouldn't be president, other than to say it "was probably not a good idea to put either of them back in the White House."

"Probably not a good idea"? This is what you call sharp criticism from the man who knows them best?

McCain's answer was no more persuasive. "Most importantly," he said, "it would mean that the appointment of Supreme Court justices and other judges would be &

take a very sharp turn to the left. I'm proud that we have Justices Alito and Roberts on the United States Supreme Court. I'm very proud to have played a very small role in making that happen."

How weak is that? First of all, the Supreme Court, for better or worse, has never been a voting issue in any recent presidential elections. Second of all, if it were, there seems little question that most Americans are closer in their outlook to the moderates appointed by President Clinton in an era when the Justice Department was not politicized the way it is now than they are to the Bush/Republican approach to justice, which sees loyalty to the president as more important than commitment to the rule of law. This is not going to be a good Republican issue in the next election.

Finally, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani took his turn at bat-bashing the Clintons. And what did he come up with? "It would mean that we were back on defense against terrorism, given Senator Clinton's recent positions. When you had this debate last week and all the Democrats were up here, I never remember the words 'Islamic fundamentalist terrorism' being spoken by any of them. And I heard it a lot tonight."

Republicans use tougher words than some Democrats. And excuse me if I'm wrong, but it was under George Bush's watch that we were attacked by terrorists, after the president ignored warning of the danger of precisely the sort of attack we faced. And it was the Republicans who got us into a war that has not only cost thousands of Americans their lives (not to mention $500-plus billion), but resulted in the growth of a fundamentalist insurgency and anti-American feeling.

Are we safer than we were four years ago? None of the Republicans wanted to talk about that. Has George Bush been a better president than Bill Clinton? Not according to the majority of Americans, whose disapproval of the current president is breaking records.

One of the biggest concerns you hear from Democrats about Hillary Clinton is the fear of the Republican attacks on her, and how they might affect her electability. Judging from how the Republican contenders handled the Clinton question in their first debates, Democrats don't have much to worry about.

To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at .

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