WASHINGTON — The debate dominatrix knows how to rattle Obambi.
Mistress Hillary started disciplining her fellow senator last winter, after he began exploring a presidential bid. When he winked at her, took her elbow and tried to say hello on the Senate floor, she did not melt, as many women do. She brushed him off, a move meant to remind him that he was an upstart who should not get in the way of her turn in the Oval Office.
He was so shook up, he called a friend to say: You would not believe what just happened with Hillary.
She has continued to flick the whip in debates. She usually ignores Obama and John Edwards backstage, preferring to chat with the so-called second-tier candidates. And she often looks so unapproachable while they're setting up on stage that Obama seems hesitant to be the first to say hi.
With so much at stake, she had to do it again in Vegas, this time using her voice, gaze and body language to such punishing effect that Obama looked as if he had been brought to heel. It was a mesmerizing display, and at an event that drew the highest television ratings of any primary debate this year. The momentum Obama had gained from a vivid speech at the Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner in Iowa drained away by the end of the first half-hour.
Other guys, like Rudy, wouldn't even be looking for a chance to greet Hillary, as Obama always does. Other guys, like Rudy, wouldn't care if she iced them.
But she can tell that Obama does care, that he doesn't want her to not like him or be mad at him, that he responds to the sort of belittling treatment that she sometimes dished out to her husband and his male aides at the White House, yelling at them and calling them wimps if they disappointed her.
Obama may be responsive to Hillary's moods because he lives with another strong woman who knows how to keep him in line. Michelle said she let her husband run for president only when he agreed to give up smoking, and she's a master at the art of the loving conjugal put-down.
When Hillary walked onstage Thursday, Obama stood to her left waiting to shake hands and say hi, as he and Edwards had done with Chris Dodd. She turned her body away, refused to meet his eyes and froze him out. Again. And he looked taken aback. Again.
For the rest of the night she owned him. He was so off his game that he duplicated her dithering performance from the last debate on the issue of whether illegal immigrants should get driver's licenses. After a tortured exchange with Wolf Blitzer, he ended up saying he favored it — one more sign that the law professor is oblivious to the visceral nature of campaigns.
Hillary brazenly leapt away from that politically devastating position and said she didn't support the licenses anymore. And Obama didn't even call her out on her third reversal on the matter.
She was willing to absorb the flip-flop criticism to cut her losses on an issue that could have dragged her to defeat in the general election.
Obama and Edwards, who both seemed shaken by a few seconds of pro-Hillary booing, let the front-runner set a ludicrous standard: that any criticism of her shifts on issues is "mudslinging" and a character attack.
She is a control freak — that's why her campaign tried to coach wonky Iowa voters to ask wonky questions — and her male rivals are letting her take control.
The Democrats should not be afraid to mix it up now, while they have a chance, and get all the doubts and disputes out on the table. Taking some flak clearly made Hillary stronger.
If Rudy's the nominee, he will go with relish to all the vulnerable places in Hillary's past. At the Federalist Society on Friday, he had barely spoken the word "she" before the audience began tittering appreciatively.
He went through a whole faux-bemused riff on Hillary's driver's license twists without ever uttering her name: "First, she was for the idea, and supported Governor Spitzer, who wanted to give driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. Then she was against the idea. Then she was for and against the idea. And then finally she said it should be decided on a state-by-state basis. This is the only time in her career that she's ever decided anything should be decided on a state-by-state basis. You know something? She picked out absolutely the wrong one. Right? I mean, this is one of the areas that is given to the federal government to deal with under our Constitution, the borders of the United States, immigration."
Rudy laced his speech with faith references, including the assertion that America has "a divinely inspired role in the world" and a mission to "save a civilization from Islamic terrorism."
Hillary has her work cut out for her. Rudy will not be so easy to spank.
c.2007 New York Times News Service …