The Lady Fights

Paul Greenberg

5/26/2008 12:01:00 AM - Paul Greenberg

"Everyone keeps declaring it over, and she keeps winning." - Terry McAuliffe, Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman, after her landslide victory in Kentucky's presidential primary

By now the media's establishment has all but given the Democratic presidential nomination to Barack Obama - many times over. Note this lede on Wednesday's front page of the New York Times after the (very) junior senator from Illinois scored a solid victory in Oregon:

"Sen. Barack Obama took a big step toward becoming the Democratic presidential nominee on Tuesday, amassing enough additional delegates to claim an all but insurmountable advantage in his race against Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton."

Sen. Cinton's blowout in Kentucky, where she outpolled her rival 66 to 30 percent, was treated as an afterthought. But not by the senator herself, who vowed to fight on till the nomination was decided - not on the front page of the New York Times, but by the voters. She acts as if this were an electoral, not an editorial, decision. How old-fashioned.

Agree or disagree with Hillary Clinton, and Lord knows I've done both over the years as she's undergone all those changes of name and personas, but this much has always been clear: The lady fights. And in a free country has every right to - till the final bell rings. Or afterward.

Politics ain't beanbag, as the fictive but astute Mister Dooley pointed out long ago. Sometimes it's a fight even after the finish. See Bush v. Gore, 2000.

Even if the lady loses this fight, it won't have been in vain. For one thing, she's begun the overdue job of vetting Barack Obama, who until recently remained the unexamined candidate. Thanks in large part to Hillary Clinton's relentless battering, the chinks in his now tarnished armor have widened into gaping holes.

She's not only softened him up for John McCain, she's wiped out the aura of invincibility that used to accompany him everywhere. The once untouchable candidate now has been not only touched but hit hard, and not just above the belt. Who now speaks of Obamamania?

The cheering throng is still there, but the magic isn't, at least not beyond the well-organized campaign rally.

Barack Obama is no longer Mister Beautiful but just the candidate who's almost got this thing sewed up but can't quite close the deal. After all, how long could he be expected to repeat that unchanging line about Change before it became the same old thing? Familiarity breeds, well, familiarity. The novelty has worn away.

It wasn't any particular rough spot in the road that did it. Not the Jeremiah Wright thing. Not his vague association with Bill Ayers, an unrepentant terrorist from the violent '60s who's now, of course, a Distinguished Professor of Education. (Same ideology, different tactic. If you can't destroy the system with bombs, undermine the next generation.)

As for Barack Obama's suspect dealings with one Tony Rezko - restaurateur, political fund-raiser, land developer and general wheeler-dealer who's now under indictment - that connection doesn't seem to have made much of an impression, either. (Hey, it's Chicago.)

What's diminished the once bright young star of American politics has been the slow, gradual realization that, however elegant and appealing his manner, and it's both, he is the greenest of U.S. senators. Not that there's anything wrong with being young; his youth is attractive. But to be young and inexperienced; that's not assuring in a prospective president and commander-in-chief.

And the inexperience keeps showing, especially in foreign and military affairs:

He speaks as if setting an arbitrary deadline for American withdrawal from/surrender in Iraq wouldn't risk calamitous consequences.

In one breath, he criticizes Jimmy Carter for opening negotiations with a terrorist outfit like Hamas, and in the next he comes out for negotiating with Hamas' puppetmasters in Syria and Iran without preconditions - before backing away from that early incautious stand. Although not nearly far enough.

It's all enough to make him sound not only naive but indecisive about it. More and more, he comes across as less the bright new hope than the ordinary backing-and-filling pol.

One result of Hillary Clinton's unending tenacity in this race, even if she fails to win her party's presidential nomination, is that she'll have made the choice in November appear less between the new and old than between the vacuous and the authentic.

No wonder so many Republicans are rooting for her at this contentious stage. So far she's been a lot more effective than John McCain at revealing Barack Obama's weaknesses.