Clinton finally understood the way to run against Obama: back to the center -- not ideologically but culturally, not on policy but on attitude. She changed none of her positions on Iraq or Iran or health care or taxes. Instead, she transformed herself into working-class Sally-get-her-gun, off duck hunting with dad.
The gas tax holiday was never an economic or policy issue. It was meant to position her culturally. It heightened her identification with her white working-class constituency. Obama played his part by citing economists in opposing it. That completed her narrative: He had the pointy-headed professors on his side; she had the single moms seeking relief at the pump.
It was an overreach. It not only deflected attention away from the amazing Rev. Wright at the height of his spectacular return. It also never played as the elitist-versus-working-folk issue she had hoped, because it isn't just economists who know the gas tax holiday is nothing but a cheap gimmick. Ordinary folks do too. And the gas tax idea had the unfortunate side effect of reinforcing Hillary's main character liability vis-a-vis Obama: cynical Washington pol willing to do or say anything to win votes versus the idealistic straight-shooter refusing to pander even if it costs him.
The lightness in Hillary's step in the days before Indiana and North Carolina reflected the relief of the veteran politician who, after months of treading water, finally finds the right campaign strategy. But it was far too late. And the gas tax overkill, one final error of modulation, sealed the deal -- for Obama.
There's only one remaining chapter in this fascinating spectacle. Negotiating the terms of Hillary's surrender. After which we will have six months of watching her enthusiastically stumping the country for Obama, denying with utter conviction Republican charges that he is the out of touch, latte-sipping elitist she warned Democrats against so urgently in the last, late leg of her doomed campaign.
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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