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Hillary can't hide

BILL CLINTON searches for redemption. Hillary Clinton searches for cover.

Is this any way to run a presidential campaign?

The senator from New York, who is an expected presidential candidate in 2008, treated the Democratic Leadership Council in Denver this week to a recycled campaign slogan: ''It's the American dream, stupid,'' Hillary Clinton told the DLC - a twist on ''It's the economy, stupid,'' the famed, but now overexposed theme of Bill Clinton's first national campaign.

While Hillary Clinton channeled 1992, Bill Clinton was in Connecticut, trying to rescue Senator Joseph I. Lieberman from his channeling of George W. Bush. Lieberman is in a tough primary fight for his seat, mostly over his embrace of Bush's Iraq war policy. Clinton stumped for him, even though last November he told an Arab student audience that the US invasion of Iraq had been a ''big mistake.'' Granted, part of Hillary Clinton's 2008 strategy is to cultivate nostalgia for the years when White House scandal meant a president making love, not war. But war is what this country faces - the war begun with the US invasion of Iraq, and its outgrowth, the war that is now raging between Israel and Hezbollah, via Lebanon. A presidential candidate ignores reality at her peril, and that is what Clinton is trying to do.

Her take on the Lieberman race is another example of the robotic ''centrist'' calculation that is the hallmark of her current political identity. She supports the war, but questions the way it has been waged.

She backs Lieberman, but says she will support whichever Democrat wins the primary. Then, to help Lieberman gain momentum against challenger Ned Lamont, Bill Clinton hits the Connecticut campaign trail. Hillary keeps a safe distance away, talking domestic policy in Denver.

Enough with the triangulating. What worked in the last century doesn't necessarily work in this one.

In the past, Clinton ''triangulation'' meant positioning oneself between the Democrats and Republicans in Congress. Now, triangulation means positioning between the two wings of the Democratic Party - the antiwar left and the centrists who don't want Democrats to look ''too angry'' about dead soldiers in Iraq or a foreign policy in meltdown.

In a practical sense, triangulation for Hillary Clinton now means: hug the center. Then, if the center gets bumpy, speed-dial husband Bill to smooth things over.

On one hand, dispatching the former president as his wife's proxy makes political sense. A recent USA Today/Gallup poll shows that Americans view Bill Clinton more favorably than his wife. But, Hillary, not Bill, is the anticipated presidential candidate; she shouldn't be allowed to dodge her vote authorizing war with Iraq, nor her continuing support for it, give or take nitpicks with the Bush administration. If she supports Lieberman, why isn't she in Connecticut, backing up his battle for reelection?

Bill Clinton's motives are forever subject to analysis by political consultants and amateur shrinks: He wants to befriend rivals, from former President George H.W. Bush to Lieberman, who denounced Clinton's behavior with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. He is making up for past infidelities by helping Hillary wage her own campaign to be president. For that reason, he wants Lieberman to win the primary - because the voters' rejection of Lieberman over the Iraq war is not good news for his wife's political quest.

All that may be true; but none of it has anything to do with Hillary Clinton's pursuit of the presidency. Put me in the category of political observer who does not believe Bill Clinton's popularity translates into votes for his wife. Every time he surfaces, the differences in their political style become clearer. He triangulated with a wink and a smile.

She does it without finesse or subtlety.

Take that speech in Denver to the DLC.

Hillary Clinton and other centrist Democrats desperately want to talk about the middle class, not the Middle East. They prefer to talk about tax credits and government savings bonds, as if the American dream exists in isolation from the rest of the world and a region at war.

To play on that overused campaign theme once again: Bush made it about the war, stupid.

Democrats who support the Bush policy have to stand up and answer for it, just like Joe Lieberman is doing in Connecticut.

Hillary can run - but she can't hide behind Bill.

Joan Vennochi's e-mail address is

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