So much for the Cleveland Steamer, the Cuyahoga Smoka’, the Cleavin’ In Cleveland, Blood Red In O-hi-o, the Sock-Eye In The Buckeye, the Devastation In The Birthplace Of Aviation, Gettin’ Started Y’All In ‘The Heart Of It All’, or even Kumbay-o in Ohio. No love, no hate, no passion. It was a tour de snores, and there wasn’t a wide eye in the house. Unless you’re the kind of wonkophile who can achieve erection at the discussion of universal health care, the stateside consequences of NAFTA, or Presidential succession in Russia (Oh, and they’re out there–there are many precautionary restraining orders and localized spikes in Mountain Dew sales to prove it).
What was noteworthy was the visible steam coming off of Hillary Clinton’s ears as she did her utmost and (mostly) above-board best, and couldn’t lay a knockout glove on her competitor, the Senator from Illinois.
Richard Wolfe on MSNBC mentioned several weeks ago that we’re appalled when they go negative and disappointed when they go boring. I’ll cop to that. After watching Hillary going from floating a graceful-exit trial balloon to Ballistic Shrillary in the last several days made me perversely hopeful that the knives would come out tonight so we could make up for all of the drama and intrigue we’ve been denied after months of the writers’ strike.
Instead, we got mostly policy, substantive delineation of positions, and academic distillations of what both of them would do to make our American lives better.
Yawn. I wanted more madrasas attacks and fear-mongering and barely-veiled sexism. That’s why I’m paying $80 a month for cable.
Oh well. Fine. Discourse intelligently and talk about how you’re going to make my country a better place. Like almost everyone else my age and older, I’ve just been conditioned to expect otherwise, and to be damned glad to get it.
Seriously, it was a real debate last night, between two people who are very qualified to become President. I’ve sat through so many empty, rote campaigns in my life, this year continues to be exhilarating, even on its worst days.
Ralph Nader had his taxi drop him off at the race two days ago, when he walked in and sat down, adjusted his mike, and then gave his verbal masturbatory gesture about how ineffectual and compromised the candidates were, and how he was here to start a dialog and be the real change candidate and blah blah blah blah blah blah. Eyes front, Ralph: This is Democracy happening right in front of your tired, rerun-pontificating self.
As far as this campaign goes, I generally dislike Hillary every day that she’s not on the stage with Barack. Onstage, for the most part, she’s combative and smart. Offstage, she’s Tracy Flick with three divorces under her belt, or Ann Coulter staring acidly at her silent phone three days after the last man who took leave of his senses for a few moments and had sex with her said his awkward morning goodbye.
I had high hopes for some sort of unhinged moment on either side with Tim Russert moderating. While Chris Matthews questions like Sonny Corleone might–intimidating and bellicose when asking a question, which he always follows up with a quick slap while you’re gathering your thoughts and trying to answer–Russert is more Michael: You’re already a bit nervous in his presence, and he comes at you with a reserved respect and reassuring geniality, and then he slowly escalates, before you realize you’re getting into territory where he could and might have you killed.
His best Michael Corleone moment last night was very nearly Obama’s biggest gaffe in the campaign, or so it seemed. It started off benignly enough. “Next Tuesday, voters will go to the polls in Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Vermont.” Okay. No problem. A campaign question. Relative softball. He had them both at ease and then he escalated, “On Sunday, March 2, there’s an election in Russia.” Uh-oh. I immediately thought of George Bush’s awkward pop quiz by Boston reporter Andy Hiller in 1999, when he could only identify the general in charge of Pakistan as “um, the General.”
As Russert explained later, he left this one “a jump ball” where either candidate could grab it. This was Hillary’s biggest tactical blunder of the evening. She had already complained about having to be the first on-the-spot so many times, and this was a gimme that she should have taken. Neither was particularly prepared to answer the question about Vladimir Putin’s successor, but it looked like a moment where Barack was going to be standing in his Jockeys in front of a nationwide audience.
Russert let her meander a bit–while Obama exhaled for a moment and tried to figure out how he was going to artfully dance around the question when it was his turn–before he reared back and struck again, with the second part of the blow that everyone knew was coming, and that Hillary was dreading. “What is his name?”
Obama proffered that he concurred with everything the Senator from New York said and then immediately took the discussion into a happier, safer place: Vladimir Putin.
That was exciting as it got, though. Much to her consternation, her moment eluded her last night. One of her aides has called this last-minute gambit her “kitchen sink fusillade”, and so far all she’s managed is to stick a few forks in the wall. She hasn’t gotten anything on Barack that he hasn’t been able to get out with a paper towel and a little club soda. Today, it’s back out on the hustings and to see what form Hillary’s desperate vexation will take next.