MoDo is channeling Emily Post this morning. She says, in a thing she typed called “Seeing Red Over Hillary,” that it would have been the natural thing for Barack Obama, only hours after his emotional embrace by the Kennedys, to greet the rebuffed Hillary Clinton at the State of the Union address. Bobo does his bloggy-thingy about what Florida taught him. Here’s MoDo:
Even newly armored by the spirit of Camelot, Barack Obama is still distressed by the sight of a certain damsel.
It’s already famous as The Snub, the moment before the State of the Union when Obama turned away to talk to Claire McCaskill instead of trying to join Teddy Kennedy in shaking hands with Hillary.
Nobody cared about W., whose presidency had crumpled into a belated concern about earmarks.
The only union that fascinated was Obama and Hillary, once more creeping around each other.
It would have been the natural thing for the Illinois senator, only hours after his emotional embrace by the Kennedys and an arena full of deliriously shrieking students, to follow the lead of Uncle Teddy and greet the rebuffed Hillary.
She was impossible to miss in the sea of dark suits and Supreme Court dark robes. Like Scarlett O’Hara after a public humiliation, Hillary showed up at the gathering wearing a defiant shade of red.
But the fact that he didn’t do so shows that Obama cannot hide how much the Clintons rattle him, and that he is still taking the race very personally.
On a flight to Kansas yesterday to collect another big endorsement, this one from Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, Obama said he was “surprised” by reports of The Snub.
“I was turning away because Claire asked me a question as Senator Kennedy was reaching forward,” he said. “Senator Clinton and I have had very cordial relations off the floor and on the floor. I waved at her as I was coming into the Senate chamber before we walked over last night. I think there is just a lot more tea leaf reading going on here than I think people are suggesting.”
But that answer is disingenuous. Their relations have been frosty and fraught ever since the young Chicago prince challenged Queen Hillary’s royal proclamation that it was her turn to rule.
Last winter, after news broke that he was thinking of running, he winked at her and took her elbow on the Senate floor to say hi, in his customary languid, friendly way, and she coldly brushed him off.
It bothered him, and he called a friend to say: You would not believe what just happened with Hillary.
Again and again at debates, he looked eager to greet her or be friendly during the evening and she iced him. She might have frozen him out once more Monday night had he actually tried to reach out.
But now Obama is like that cat Mark Twain wrote about who wouldn’t jump on the stove again for fear of being burned.
It was only after the distortions of the Clintons in South Carolina that he changed his tone and took on Hillary in a tough way in the debate there. Afterward, one of his advisers said that it was as though a dam had broken and Obama finally began using all the sharp lines against Hillary that strategists had been suggesting for months.
Why had it taken so long for Obama to push back against Hillary? “He respected her as a senator,” the adviser replied. “He even defended her privately when she cried, saying that no one knows how hard these campaigns are.”
But Obama’s outrage makes him seem a little jejune. He is surely the only person in the country who was surprised when the Clintons teamed up to dissemble and smear when confronted with an impediment to their ambitions.
Knowing that it helped her when Obama seemed to be surly with her during the New Hampshire debate, telling her without looking up from his notes that she was “likable enough” — another instance of Obama not being able to hide his bruised feelings — Hillary went on ABC News last night to insinuate that he was rude Monday.
“Well, I reached my hand out in friendship and unity and my hand is still reaching out,” she said, lapsing back into the dissed-woman mode. “And I look forward to shaking his hand sometime soon.”
Something’s being stretched here, but it’s not her hand. She wasn’t reaching out to him at all.
The New York State chapter of NOW issued an absurd statement on Monday calling Teddy Kennedy’s endorsement of Obama “the ultimate betrayal”: “He’s picked the new guy over us.”
But Obama is the more emotionally delicate candidate, and the one who has the more feminine consensus management style, and the not-blinded-by-testosterone ability to object to a phony war.
As first lady, Alpha Hillary’s abrasive and secretive management of health care doomed it. She voted to enable W. on Iraq so she could run as someone tough enough to command armies.
Given her brazen quote to ABC News, Obama is right to be scared of Hillary. He just needs to learn that Uncle Teddy can’t fight all his fights, and that a little chivalry goes a long way.
Here are a few things I learned Tuesday night.
First, good candidates are never completely out of it. Several months ago I was covering a John McCain event in Keene, New Hampshire. It was at the low point of the McCain candidacy, after his staff explosion and when the campaign bank account was dry. There was no bus and he was staying in the cheapest motels in town.
After the event, he invited the press corps out to dinner. I was the entire press corps. We went to a cheap hamburger place and I was tempted to buy him and his three aides dinner, since his campaign had no money. (Being a cheap journalist, I resisted the temptation.) But do you want to know what his mood was like?
He was fine. Winning the nomination, let alone the presidency, seemed like the longest of long shots back then. But he was fine with that. He wanted to win, but he was content to merely go to small gatherings and have his say. There was no bitterness. Nor was there any desperate casting about for ways to turn things around.
He just plugged along. He stayed true to himself. Eventually good and honest candidates get rewarded no matter how badly outspent they are, no matter how few consultants they have.
Second, voters are human beings, not automatons. As always, there were perplexities in the exit polls. The economy was the top voter concern. McCain did well among economically minded voters even though Romney talks economics far more. As Tom Bevan of the invaluable RealClearPolitics site points out, Romney was the second choice of many Rudy Giuliani voters while McCain was the overwhelming second choice among the very conservative Mike Huckabee voters. These things happen because voters are not ideological robots. They vote in ways that defy ideological categorization, but make sense as character judgments.
Third, the big conservative issues did not bark, once again. Can we please stop pretending that immigration is a good issue for Republicans? The restrictionist side can’t even produce a victory for their man in a Republican primary. Rudy Giuliani promised gigantic tax cuts. Got him nowhere. Romney also promised big tax cuts. Nada. Romney hit McCain for being soft on social issues. Goose egg.
Fourth, elections without campaigns don’t count. Hillary Clinton won big on the Democratic side. I still think she is the Democratic front-runner (she’s got huge leads in the big states), but this win doesn’t mean much. In other states many more Democrats voted than Republicans. But not in Florida. Seniors turned out, which is good for Hillary. But younger people and minority groups didn’t so much. In short, Florida is not a test of where the Democratic race is.
Finally, here are two things I don’t know about yet:
First, how desperate is Romney? The Wednesday debate is his last shot at turning this around. If he is truly frantic, he will hit McCain hard on the temperament issue and hope McCain blows up on national TV. It will be an ugly assault, but the mark of a man who is willing to try anything. If Romney’s not willing to get that ugly, he’ll just use the same arguments he tried in Florida.
Second, what does delegate hunting look like? For decades, presidential primaries have been settled by momentum. That is unlikely to happen on the Democratic side. Super-Duper-Looper Tuesday will almost certainly not settle the Democratic race because each side will emerge with many delegates. But how do you campaign in this environment? Do you try to win states? Do you focus on Congressional Districts with high turnouts, which sometimes get rewarded? Do you care about the national aggregate numbers next Tuesday? Almost nobody now living has done this before. And the challenge for us journalists is that we will have no clue next Tuesday how to make sense of the hundreds of different sorts of results that will come in.
If you don’t find this prospect exciting then you don’t like politics. And if so, why have you read this deep into this post?