Friday, October 3, 2008

Grace after the fire

GRAND LEDGE -- Hillary Clinton is so over it.

The primary ping-pong, that is - the bitter battles with Barack, her husband's crimson face and wagging finger, the endless wrangling over every state, every superdelegate.

It all seemed to wash away as a Zen-like Hillary took to the stage Saturday and bestowed her message on the mostly female crowd of 1,000: Move on and vote Obama.

Maybe it's the distance. Maybe it was Friday's debate and the harrowing financial meltdown that hasn't fazed the kid from Chi-town one bit, while the impeccably experienced John McCain swan-dived into a full-scale panic. But Clinton seemed genuinely impressed with Obama in a way she never was when they engaged in hand-to-hand combat.

"I'm campaigning as hard as I can to make sure he's the next president," she announced with almost maternal pride. "I think last night people saw why."

Decked in a canary suit as sunny as her demeanor, Clinton radiated a laid-back warmth to a clearly smitten crowd. (There wasn't a PUMA (Party Unity My Ass) miscreant in sight). Instead of having to make the sale for herself in a pressure-cooker primary, she could relax and merrily dispatch McCain while pumping up Obama.

Losing such a brutal, close contest was devastating, no doubt. Many pundits believed she'd hole herself up with astringent aides Lanny Davis and Howard Wolfson, resurfacing to give aid and comfort to the GOP with unhelpful comments about Obama. ("He did admire Kwame Kilpatrick immensely, I know that.")

But Hillary's grace and enthusiasm has surprised even this cynical columnist, admittedly not her biggest fan. I don't know that Obama would have been able to pull off what she has if the roles were reversed.

Often sour and steely in her own race, Clinton has transformed herself into the happy warrior. This was supposed to be John McCain's role, instead reduced to a scowling septuagenarian lecturing baby Barack that "he just doesn't understand" anything, when it's his running mate who can't name a single newspaper she reads, another Supreme Court case besides Roe v. Wade or any of his maverick reforms ("I'll try to find you some and I'll bring 'em to ya.")

Is it real? Who knows? No one can say what's truly going on in someone's head. Maybe Clinton is giving a Cannes-worthy performance and will be punching her ballot for McCain on Nov. 4 anyway. She no doubt is looking ahead to 2012, just in case, as is one Mitt Romney.

But publicly, she is all-in in '08 and apparently has told Bill to get with the program, prompting him to (finally) say nice things about Obama while barnstorming Florida this week.

No one could have predicted what an effective surrogate Hillary has become for her former rival. Indeed, she's Obama's best defender, an emissary to women, although they're flocking back on the Barack bandwagon in droves since Sarah Palin has proven to be a national embarrassment.

Clinton's sheer depth on policy issues and effortless intellect underscores Palin's indignant incuriosity and startling cerebral shallowness, which even a skeptic like me underestimated. The McCain campaign clearly chose style over substance, but to flagrantly do so with someone a heartbeat away from the presidency is political malpractice.

But even on the surface, Clinton's down-home "I feel your pain" routine plays better than Palin's faux populism, since she's not really concerned with building "Joe Sixpack" up, as she refers to her constituency, but on cattily tearin' the elitist haters down. I believe we refer to that as goin' for the lowest common denominator.

What the 2008 election will ultimately mean for women is anyone's guess. I tend to believe that Clinton coming so close will motivate more women to jump into public life and push harder for a female president next time. That's one reason why so many women were initially drawn to the McCain-Palin ticket, before they came down with buyer's remorse.

But the failure of Palin could have the opposite effect. Some women who remember the Gerry Ferraro days tell me that Sarah's set up to be the fall gal when McCain goes down. She's the airhead hottie who never could be trusted with the launch codes, scuttling the chances of an honorable war hero who could have restored this country's glory.

Chicks, huh?

Forgive and forget, part II: Republican Joe Schwarz has broken his silence about the 7th District congressional race and endorsed state Sen. Mark Schauer, D-Battle Creek. This won't come as a shock to anyone who watched the bloody GOP primary two years ago when U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Tipton, and his Club for Growth overlords disemboweled him as a liberal, baby-killing freak.

But it did catch longtime pundit Bill Ballenger a little off guard.

"Schwarz and Schauer are supposed to be good buddies, though Schauer screwed him over a few times," he observes.

Like Mark recruiting the former congressman to run as a Dem, swearing he wouldn't run himself (oops)? Or neglecting to give him credit for keeping open the Battle Creek Air National Guard Base?

I hope Mr. Schauer manned up said he's sorry. Because Schwarz just did him a huge favor, at his own political peril.

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