Hillary's "Ruthlessness" Keeps Her Fighting Against St. Obama

The Times is less than thrilled with the way Hillary is hanging around and making it difficult for the beatific Barack Obama to clinch the Democratic nomination, judging by the tone of Mark Leibovich and Kate Zernike's Monday front-page story, "SeeingGrit and Ruthlessness In Clinton's Love of the Fight."

"Ruthlessness"? Did the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy phone in that headline?

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton is waving her fists across Indiana, signing autographs on boxing gloves.

"We need a president who's a fighter again," Mrs. Clinton said at a rally on Thursday, adding that the next president must understand what it is like to "get knocked down and get back up: that's the story of America, right?"

In recent days, Mrs. Clinton has chided the experts for "counting me out" and Senator Barack Obama for his inability to "close the deal" and declared that no one was going to make her quit. "She makes Rocky Balboa look like a pansy," North Carolina's governor, Michael F. Easley, said in endorsing her, and a union leader in Portage, Ind., praised her "testicular fortitude."

This kind of language and pugilistic imagery, however, also evokes the baggage that makes Mrs. Clinton such a provocative political figure. For as much as a willingness to "do what it takes" and "die hard" are marketable commodities in politics, they can also yield to less flattering qualities, plenty of which have been ascribed to her over the years. Just as supporters praise her "toughness" and "tenacity," critics also describe her as "divisive," "a dirty fighter" or "willing to do anything to win."

To paint Hillary Clinton as ruthless, the Times took a strange new angle: Whitewater prosecutor Ken Starr, loathed by liberals and Clinton-lovers,as victim.

...Mrs. Clinton has never been a litigator. But those who know her describe her as litigator-like in her attacks: methodically gathering evidence and marshaling her arguments, habits she has displayed in Senate hearings and on the campaign trail.

While living in Arkansas, she once appeared at a news conference called by a political rival of her husband's, pulled a sheaf of papers from her purse and began reading them aloud to counter his claims about Mr. Clinton. During the Whitewater investigation, White House aides described Mrs. Clinton pressing them to find negative information about Kenneth W. Starr, the special prosecutor, and to pass it on to reporters. In her husband's 1992 presidential campaign, she helped oversee the team that hired a private investigator to try to discredit Gennifer Flowers, who declared she had an affair with Mr. Clinton.