Schizophrenia is a mandatory condition for all Democratic presidential candidates, never more so than at this stage in America's election cycle. They have to rush from Davenport, Iowa, to Manchester, N.H., to Columbia, S.C., projecting constructive, United Nations-friendly uplift to the party liberals who can make and break them in these early days. But simultaneously, they have to make sure not to offend the flag-wagging, book-burning, Fortress America legions who will elect America's next president in November 2008.




So when Hillary Clinton says she's in favor of giving illegal immigrants driving licenses albeit hostile to this becoming a practical option, or in favor of an end to the war in Iraq while vehement in the war on terror, or supportive of regulatory curbs on law-breaking corporations while cautious about messing with free enterprise, or committed to hate-crime legislation to protect gays while committed to equal rights for all Americans, she's just talking the talk and walking the walk. If a Democratic candidate for the presidency mentions love in the first part of any sentence, there had better be an endorsement of war before the full stop. Ten endorsements if the Democrat is a woman.




So, of course, Hillary bobs and weaves. She's not alone. On a clear day from the summit of Mount Obama, one can see as many as three contradictory political intentions in a single paragraph. Only the rank outsiders and third-ranked contenders like Edwards stick to principled positions &

because they've got only truly committed enthusiasts to lose.




Hillary's problem is that she's not too quick on her feet &

unlike her husband, Bill, a Baryshnikov of equivocation who could pirouette effortlessly across the political spectrum in a single phrase. In that last debate, out there under the spotlights, with Tim Russert as moderator and Obama and John Edwards gunning for her, Mrs. Clinton blew it, just exactly at the moment when every laptop pundit in the blathersphere was getting bored with the apparent certainty that H. Clinton would be the party's nominee.




So they've been piling on ever since. Campaign Clinton protests they're picking on a woman, and the crowd roars that Hillary's playing the poor-little-me card. Campaign Clinton says she's one tough woman, and the crowd howls back that she can't have it both ways.




Will she implode, just like that front-runner of November 2004, Howard Dean? No. Hillary Clinton has a ton of money and the solid support of the Democratic Party's bosses, which is not surprising since the Clintons picked these bosses in the first place. A great many women in America want her to be president.




Recovery is a process the Clintons have been refining every since Hillary got herself into trouble with the voters of Arkansas back in 1978 for insisting on the first lady of that state be called Hillary Rodham, a stand on feminist principle she abandoned in time for the 1980 governor's race.




At the very moment in February 1992, when Bill Clinton was battling political extinction in New Hampshire after disclosure of his affair with Gennifer Flowers, Hillary made one of her worst gaffes &

again as a consequence of thinking a little too slowly. Hillary urged Bill to follow the high-risk strategy of both of them going on CBS's "60 Minutes" for an interview conducted by Steve Kroft. In front of a vast national audience, Bill, visibly ill at ease, admitted to causing pain to his family while denying that their marriage was merely an arrangement. "This is a marriage " he asserted. Hillary broke in. Years of effort in burnishing Bill's image as a Son of the South went up in smoke as she declared, "You know, I'm not sitting here like some little woman standing by my man, like Tammy Wynette."




The polls promptly showed Bill's numbers plummeting south of the Mason-Dixon line. An affair with Flowers was one thing, but insulting Tammy Wynette? The nation's No. — country star had been watching the program and was furious. For three days, the Clinton campaign tried to talk to Wynette. She declined all calls until finally they got Burt Reynolds to call her, and she relented, releasing the news that she would accept Hillary's apologies.




So Hillary will almost certainly tack to safety out of this mini-typhoon. But the bigger problem is not going away. There's a solid slice of the flag-wagging, book-burning, Fortress America legions that will never, under any conditions, vote for Hillary Clinton a year from now. Every equivocation on immigrants or the war will be replayed next fall as mercilessly as John Kerry's fence straddles in 2004 on his record on the war in Iraq. Hillary's only chance is to have the Republican vote split by the evangelical Christians who are unable to stomach a pro-abortion wife-hopper like Giuliani and run a candidate of their own. Some born-again type from the South.




Now, if Bill really wants to make it up to Hillary "&

166;




(Postscript: Talk about thinking slowly. Only this week, Kerry told a Massachusetts paper that he's assembled data on his war record: "We have put together a documented portfolio that frankly puts their lies in such a total light of absurdity and indecency that should they ever rear their ugly heads again, we have every single t crossed and i dotted, and I welcome that in a sense. It's a shame we weren't able to produce all that at the time.'')




Alexander Cockburn is coeditor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. He is also co-author of the new book "Dime's Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils," available through . To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at .