There's not much separating Hillary Clinton from the white, Republican candidates who came before her

Within the last several weeks, Hillary Clinton performed stunning transformations from authoritarian to weepy woman to shrew. Her version of feminism may believe all's fair in love and politics, but it's a sorry sight for those of us who hoped the first woman with a chance of winning the Democratic Party's presidential nomination had more going for her than overarching ambition and a willingness to engage in a ruthless, schoolyard-bully style of politics.

Hillary's tough, take-no-prisoners persona may win her some blue-collar, white-male votes, but her behavior in the South Carolina debate indicates her desire to win has compromised her integrity and maybe her humanity.

Some reports claim Hillary is quite personable when she's not campaigning. What's the big deal? She grew up in a Republican, conservative, Midwestern Methodist family: She was bred on personable. Her background and career path are similar to those of many privileged white men with a jones for presidential power, as is her willingness to be as Machiavellian as the rest of the pack.

No less a progressive columnist than the late Molly Ivins wrote: "I'd like to make it clear to the people who run the Democratic Party that I will not support Hillary Clinton for president." Also check out Jeff Cohen's piece at the Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting Web site at www.fair.org/index.php?page=2583 for more on Clinton's record.

If Ivins were alive, it's certain she'd be weighing in on the contemptible way Hillary, or rather Billary, are conducting themselves in this campaign. Unlike most of the other candidates from both parties, who have so far managed to keep a largely civil tone in the race, the Clintons are engaging in slash-and-burn techniques seemingly cribbed from the GOP playbook.

Hillary's comments on Martin Luther King Jr. belittle the power of grassroots movements. She further misreads historical subtleties when she claims it took a president to realize MLK's work.

Her comment on King was bad enough, but when she went after Barack Obama, in an all-out show of bare-knuckled invidious political balderdash, she should have lost any remaining shred of credibility.

No matter what she calls herself, or how progressive she claims to be, Hillary Clinton is a centrist, or, in Ivins' words, "Republican-lite," a description illuminating the recent New York Times Clinton endorsement. One of Clinton's last acts as a Republican was to attend the party's national convention in 1968, the same year the left was being assaulted in Chicago while protesting at the Democratic National Convention. Her early political support went to Barry Goldwater. She served on the board of Wal-Mart starting in 1986, while she was first lady of Arkansas, and resigned her seat in 1992 during her husband's presidential campaign.

She also served on the board of Lafarge, a U.S. cement manufacturer owned by a French conglomerate. Just before Bill Clinton was elected president in 1992, the Environmental Protection Agency fined Lafarge $1.8 million for pollution violations at its Alabama site, a figure reduced to less than $600,000 during the Clinton presidency, The Washington Post reports.

Another little-known fact about Hillary, according to the Post, is her failed attempt to enlist in the Marines shortly after the Vietnam War. Though she excludes the episode from her biography, she related it to a group of female veterans in 1994.

Should Hillary Clinton prevail at the Democratic National Convention (God help us), the country will be treated to more of the same garbage politicking we've wearily come to expect in presidential elections. And you can bet Billary will do their best to drag even John McCain (my bet for the GOP nod) into the mudslinging.

Meanwhile, the Democrats will have lost their opportunity to nominate a man who has the potential, background and intelligence to shake up the sclerotic Washington status quo. To suggest Barack Obama cannot win this presidential election because he is a man of color is to deny the greatness of the American idea and affirm the failure of American ideals.

I hope we don't pass up the chance to nominate someone who understands the nuances of political processes; someone who presents a fresh and startling face to the rest of the world; someone who, like Moshe Dayan--the legendary Israeli military and political leader--understands that when you want peace, you talk to your enemies. (Even the Mafia knows that.)

There's a sad and profound historical irony behind the Obama and Clinton battle. Decades ago, when the suffragettes were fighting for their right to vote, one of their rallying cries was the fact that black men had a constitutional right to vote though white women did not.

If women vote for Hillary because she is female, it would be a telling comment on how far we have yet to go.

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