Saturday, January 26, 2008

South Carolina forum offered rare glimpse of real Hillary

(Originally published 1/26/08)

The presidential primaries kicked into overdrive this week.

Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney won the caucuses in Nevada (properly pronounced “nuh-VAD-ah,” as Michelle Obama learned), while John McCain edged Mike Huckabee in the GOP contest in South Carolina.

The Democrats’ South Carolina forum, co-sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, was held on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday Monday night. It was the first time the gloves truly came off in the contentious race. I felt like I was watching one of those old Batman shows, you know, the ones from the 60s where words would flash on the screen during a fight?

(Cue music)

You were a corporate lawyer on the board at Wal-Mart!

BAM!

You represented that slumlord in inner-city Chicago!

KA-POW!

Maybe I’m alone in this, but I appreciated that heated exchange between Barack Obama and Clinton. No candidate is as precisely scripted, carefully controlled and perfectly practiced as she. It is as if she draws confidence from being the Stepford candidate. But the slumlord line was delivered with genuine rancor, and it represented – finally – a crack in her porcelain fa├žade. In that moment, if even for an instant, we caught a glimpse of Hillary Clinton, the fighter.

But not everyone appreciated the moment.

“How many children is this going to get health care?” John Edwards plaintively whined at one point.

I’m no fan of negative campaigning. But I do think it’s important to know whether your president has the guts for a fight. I don’t know about you, but I want someone as president who not only has a vision, but also the strength to make it happen. I want a hardheaded negotiator who can drum up legislative support for his agenda not only on the strength of the idea, but also on the strength of the argument. I want someone who isn’t going to back down when challenged. I want someone who strides into a showdown with confidence, because even the best ideas – health care for children, for example – are useless if you can’t win the fights that will make them law.

Back on the GOP side, Fred Thompson mercifully put his disappointing campaign out of its misery on Tuesday after he finished third in South Carolina. Readers who fancy yourselves campaign managers, drop me a line with your analysis of how Thompson managed to enter the race as a strong favorite and then fizzle in such spectacular fashion. Bonus points for all who can fashion their explanations without the words “unattainable” and/or “expectations.”

Thursday’s GOP forum in Florida was the polar opposite of Monday’s exciting Democratic dust-up. One pundit suggested that the candidates had agreed to be nice to each other and to attack Hillary instead.

I have just one word for what ensued:

ZZZZzzzzzzz.

I discussed the mind-numbingly boring results with a friend, and we have some ideas about how to spice things up. I’ll share them with you in coming weeks.

Finally, this week’s pundit prize is the John Moschitta Jr. Award, so named for that guy who would dress up in white coveralls and blabber on about Micro Machines in the 1980s. It goes to CNN’s Amy Holmes. Holmes and fellow pundit Roland Martin, the Moschitta runner-up, are air piranhas on CNN’s set.

Next up: South Carolina Democrats will vote in that state today; on Tuesday, all eyes turn to Florida, where we’ve seen before that anything can happen.

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