Obama’s gruff “You’re likeable enough, Hillary” during last night’s ABC debate was hardly cynical, but rather a low-key (and successful) attempt to head off a fruitless squabble about the relative likeability of the candidates, not to mention a gallant effort to rescue Hillary from an embarrassing moment.
Hillary was not being cynical either. Of course her feelings were hurt, and she was courageous to admit it. It hurts to be publicly slapped after doing your best in a lifetime of service. And of course this seasoned politician will soldier on with her characteristic indomitable resilience despite the shaking she’s endured in the last few weeks from the rough winds of political fortune. Her willingness to be vulnerable and honest was positively endearing, and indicative of hard-won personal growth in recent years.
Hillary is deeply warm-spirited. If she could as consistently offer that diplomatic side of herself (i.e., the openness, defenselessness, and respect she offers Chelsea, for instance) toward voters, the press, her rivals, and even America’s presumed enemies, as Obama can and will (rather than attacking, stereotyping, and polarizing her “enemies” as Bush has–i.e., Hillary's recent remark about the “soulless KGB agent, Putin”)–her political scope of influence (and fortunes) would change overnight.
Unfortunately, Hillary has not yet conquered her distrustfulness and defensiveness, while Obama has apparently little ego to protect. He judges and attacks no one, including himself, and because of that, he doesn’t feel attacked.
Negative campaigning doesn’t sit comfortably within Hillary’s moral heart, so she was at her desperately inauthentic worst during the opening moments of the debate as she deceptively snuck in unfair innuendos about Obama’s record, attacks which Obama handily deflected with facts.
Then all the other candidates justifiably pounced on her for negative campaigning, which won’t work for her, and shouldn't (how could a ruthless attack-dog heal a nation and lead the world?) and shame on her for the pointless grief and confusion it could bring to what otherwise would be a profitable exchange of competing ideas during a dangerous time.
Unfortunately, it’s a bit much to ask Hillary to suddenly turn into Bill Clinton (or Barack Obama). She is what she is, which is a truly amazing woman with a few limitations and the tenacity to overcome them.
Obama did have a chance to speak briefly and eloquently on the subject of the relative importance of charisma and leadership skills. When Hillary contemptuously dismissed the impact of “words” as opposed to “actions,” Obama countered by insisting that the next President’s ability to inspire the citizenry to greater personal political responsibility was essential. And he’s right. Even Barack Obama will not be able to move forward on the huge, difficult changes we need without overwhelming public backing, because, despite the current popularity of the word “change,” no one likes it.
The American public is gradually awakening to the realization that our next President can break political gridlock only through charismatic, trustworthy leadership. This realization is less fun for Hillary, whose many talents currently lie elsewhere.