(For specifics, see Clinton Falls, Edwards Rises in Whack-a-Mole Democratic Debate.)
The Clinton camp fought their morning-after blues by taking two tactics: blaming moderator Tim Russert, and playing the gender victimhood card. One tactic is legitimate, and one is embarrassing and harmful to her campaign.
Tim Russert, Interview Bully & Ambush Journalist
In a conference call with reporters on Thursday, Clinton staffers decried "that Clinton was unfairly targeted by Tim Russert, debate moderator and host of NBCís 'Meet the Press,' " per The Hill.
I've long observed that Tim Russert is an interview bully who deliberately seeks to trap, to trick, and to otherwise humiliate political leaders... not to inspire discussion of the important issues facing Americans.
Often, Russert's questions are obviously pointless except as a tool to take down the powerful. (For some ugly examples, see Tim Russert, Judge, Jury & Limelight Hog: Democratic Debate Gone Bad.)
Ambush journalist Tim Russert naturally honed in on Sen. Clinton because she's the Democratic frontrunner. Not because she's a woman, but because that's what he does.
Sen. Clinton is correct to complain about Tim Russert's "gotcha" entrapments. And Dennis Kucinich should complain, as well, about Russert's sensational but wholly irrelevant question about UFOs.
NBC News mars its credibility by allowing Tim Russert to subjectively smackdown candidates when what our country desperately needs is a serious conversation. But then for NBC, maybe it's about ratings, not credibility or journalism with integrity.
Playing the Gender Victimhood Card
Speaking Thursday at her alma mater, Wellesley College, Hillary Clinton gleefuly orated to resounding applause:
"In so many ways, this all-women's college prepared me to compete in the all-boys club of presidential politics."
And on the same morning-after, the Clinton camp released a 30-second video entitled "The Politics of Pile On," which cleverly juxtapositions clips from the October 30, 2007 debate to appear that men were beating up on Hillary, who remained rational and forthright under heated pressure from the boys club.
The video is classic Clintonian politics: distorted, slick, eye-catching.
Sen. Hillary Clinton was challenged by her rivals because she's the frontrunner. That's what rivals do in debates with frontrunners. Of course.
To turn her rivals' legitimate respect for and fear of her candidacy into the pitiful plea of a damsel in distress is thinly-disguised manipulation. And it's demeaning to her and to all woman in politics.
And worse for the Clinton campaign, it plays into the dreaded image of Slick Hillary, political soulmate of Slick Willy, husband former President Bill Clinton. No one... absolutely no one... regards Hillary Clinton as a helpless damsel in distress. Not even her most ardent supporters...
Sen. Barack Obama correctly commented when asked today by The Today Show's Matt Lauer:
"I am assuming, and I hope that Senator Clinton wants to be treated like everybody else, and I think that thatís why sheís running for President...
"I donít think that people doubt that Senator Clinton is tough... And in fact, that is one of the things that she has suggested why she should be elected is because sheís been playing in this rough-and-tumble stage.
" So it doesnít make sense for her after having run that way for eight months, the first time that people start challenging her point of view, that suddenly, she backs off and says: Donít pick on me. "
Hillary Clinton is Still the Democratic 2008 Frontrunner
Sen. Hillary Clinton remains the Democratic frontrunner in the 2008 race for the White House.
But her dishonest wafffing and cagy dodging at the Democratic debate this week hurt her campaign momentum. Commented family friend former President George H.W. Bush:
"I thought a few weeks ago that she was almost a Ďgimmeí, as we say in golf, for the nomination. Iím not sure I feel that way now."
And political handicapper, former House speaker Newt Gingrich told the National Review:
"It takes her winning the nomination from an 80 percent likelihood to a 50 percent. Itís even money. If she doesnít turn this around quick, I may have to call back in and take it even lower."
I admire Sen. Clinton's competency, intelligence, leadership skills and her aggressive drive for the White House. I'm deeply proud that a woman is a top contender to be President of the United States.
But I won't cast my vote for someone who isn't forthright on the issues... who evades, who bobs and weaves, who's too slick and far too obfuscating.
Like all Democrats, I support the best progressive candidate for our party's 2008 presidential nomination... not the best woman candidate for the job.
(Photo taken at Wellesley College on Nov 1, 2007: Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
Profile of U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York
Profile of U.S. Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois
Clinton Falls, Edwards Rises in Whack-a-Mole Democratic Debate
Washington Post. Nov 2, 2007: Victim or a Party Crasher in the 'All-Boys Club'?
Newsweek's The Page, Nov 2, 2007: Bush 41 Backs Away From Clinton