Op-Ed Columnist


Published: May 7, 2008 in the New York Times

Maureen Dowd

In his memoir, the legendary Elia Kazan wrote about directing Vivien Leigh in "A Streetcar Named Desire." While he did not think that Leigh was a great natural actress, he was impressed that she would crawl through glass to get the role right.

Hillary Clinton may not be a great natural politician, but traveling across the country on her own Bus Named Desire, she has crawled through glass to get the role right.

She showed again with her squeaker win in Indiana that for many white working-class men, she is The Man — more tenacious and less concerned with the judgments of the tony set, economists and editorial writers. Talking up guns, going to the Auto Racing Hall of Fame, speaking from the back of pickup trucks and doing shots of populism with a cynicism chaser, Hillary emerged from a lifetime of government limos to bask as queen of the blue-collar prom.

Nobility is for losers.

Just as Obama spent his youth trying not to be threatening, so as not to unnerve whites, Hillary spent her life learning to be threatening so she could beat back challenges to her and her husband — from Republicans and from "bimbo eruptions" and now from a charmed younger rival.

As Obama learned to accommodate, the accommodating Hillary learned to triangulate and lacerate. As he learned that following the rules could get you far with adoring mentors, she learned from Bill and Dick Morris and Mark Penn that following the rules was for saps.

Hillary is less Blanche than Scarlett. "Heaven help the Yankees if they capture you," Rhett told the willful belle at the start of her rugged odyssey.

And heaven help the Democrats as they try to shake off Hillary. On top of her inane vows to obliterate Iran, OPEC and the summer gas tax, she plans "a nuclear option" during her Shermanesque march to Denver. Tom Edsall reported on The Huffington Post that the Hillaryites will try, at a May 31 meeting of the Democratic Rules and Bylaws Committee, to renege on their word and get the Michigan and Florida delegations seated. Addressing supporters here, she urged the counting of the Florida and Michigan votes, noting "it would be a little strange to have a nominee chosen by 48 states."

"It’s full speed onto the White House," she said.

Fox News reports that the Clintons are planning a summer campaign with TV appearances, fliers and rallies, between the end of the primary and the convention, to drag back superdelegates trying to flock to Obama. The Democratic race has been a scorpion and a butterfly in a bottle. Hillary tore Barry’s wings off, and so psyched him out with her silly goading — "Enough about the speeches and the big rallies!" she cried — that he gave up his magical trump cards.

Wandering around Indiana, appearing in neighborhoods and at diners without any advance notice, talking to handfuls of people, Obama strived to seem less lofty and more mortal. Hounded by Hillary, Bill and Rev. Wright, he just looked sort of numb. When Obama went to an 11:30 p.m. shift change at an auto components plant here, a Newsday reporter on the scene noted that many of the white men "were less likely to smile or look him in the eye or seem impressed with him."

In a restaurant in Greenwood on Tuesday, Obama approached an older white guy who waved him off, muttering afterwards to a reporter: "I can’t stand him. He’s a Muslim. He’s not even pro-American as far as I’m concerned."

Even though people at diners kept trying to fatten up Obama — he drew the line at gravy — he looked increasingly diaphanous, like anti-matter to Hillary’s matter. She’s more appealing when she’s beaten down; he’s less imposing. Even his strategists admit that he will now need to "step it up," as one said. And he did that with his victory speech in Raleigh, N.C., with a vivid paean to patriotism and "telling the truth forcefully, repeatedly, confidently." As one aide crowed, "He’s back!"

It’s hard to believe that this Hillary is the same Wellesley girl who said she yearned for a more "ecstatic and penetrating mode of living." What would that young Hillary — who volunteered on Gene McCarthy’s anti-war campaign; who cried the day Martin Luther King Jr. was killed; who referred to some of her "smorgasbord of personalities" in a 1967 letter to a friend as an "alienated academic," and an "involved pseudo-hippie"; who once returned a bottle of perfume after feeling guilty about the poverty around her — think of this shape-shifting, cynical Hillary?

She’s so at odds with who she used to be, even in the Senate, that if she were to get elected, who would voters be electing?

Obama is like her idealistic, somewhat naïve self before the world launched 1,000 attacks against her, turning her into the hard-bitten, driven politician who has launched 1,000 attacks against Obama.

As she makes a last frenzied and likely futile attempt to crush the butterfly, it’s as though she’s crushing the remnants of her own girlish innocence.


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