National Commentary

Nicholas F. Benton: Hillary Slays The

Now it’s time for a real campaign. Until Sen. Hillary Clinton’s recovery with victories in Texas, Ohio and Rhode Island Tuesday, she had to box with a chimera, an illusive, intangible thing called “Big Mo,” Sen. Barack Obama’s oratory-driven momentum.

In fact, it was the momentum itself which was the strongest thing that Obama had going for him, building up steam in the south and feeding off the image of an unstoppable force. Rock concert-like public rallies, screaming fans, adolescent adoration, shallow slogans, and only a single word, “change,” generated a frenzy that had many Democratic Party regulars worrying that they’d be left in the dust if they didn’t jump onto this accelerating bandwagon.

Part of the reality check that began to sink in with Democratic voters in Texas and Ohio had to do with the inevitability of Sen. John McCain’s nomination by the GOP. This man’s obvious seniority and experience began to make some wonder if Obama would fare so well in November in a direct face-off.

In addition, it was not some of the better-publicized mini-gaffs by the Obama campaign that began to hurt him, but the monotonous Johnny One Note content of his message.

It gets a little old, and in a hurry, that whenever the issue of Iraq arises, either from McCain or Clinton, Obama goes back to the same old well, criticizing the decision to invade in the first place.

It’s time he stopped boring us about five years ago, and started talking about how he’d be the person to handle the situation going forward.

A second turn-off for many Democrats, according to my reports, has been the glib manner in which Obama has talked favorably about Republicans. He has often reprised his stump speech segment recalling a citizen who approached him and in a very low voice said, “I support you, and I’m a Republican.”

“That’s a good thing,” Obama recalls replying, adding, “So, why are we whispering?”

To a lot of Democrats, being proud of wooing Republicans has begun to raise some important questions such as, “What is it about your program that Republicans like better than McCain or Clinton’s?,” and, “If Republicans like those things about you so much, why should Democrats?”

If Republicans are out to perpetuate Republican values and programs, what is it about Obama that they like so much? Only lately have the awestruck among the Obama legions even begun to ask such questions.

It has become clear, for example, that Clinton’s health care program is far more comprehensive and inclusive than Obama’s, which is one big thing making Obama preferable in the minds of Republican free market types.

Of course, the vast majority of Americans have concurred through polling that the media has been a lot harder on Clinton than Obama. On CNN last week, just after a segment showing some defensive journalists in a state of denial, there came a report on the difference between Clinton’s and Obama’s health care plans.

In it, they lifted uncritically Obama’s characterization of the differences as if it was factual. They reported that Clinton’s mandates full coverage, while Obama’s is voluntary. That is not what distinguishes them, in essence, at all.

Then CNN Correspondent Jessica Yellin, covering Clinton’s comeback victories Tuesday, proved that she was still drawing her lines directly from Obama’s campaign, characterizing Clinton’s “It’s 3 A.M. in the Morning” TV ad as “negative campaigning.”

That’s how Obama characterized it during a sour grapes reaction to Tuesday’s outcomes. But to most Americans, the TV ad did not attack Obama, it did not slur or misrepresent him. It merely asked a question that caused voters to think, using an artful way of causing viewers to compare the experience factors of one candidate against the other. What is negative about that?

Now maybe with the “Big Mo” factor neutralized, between this week and the Democratic National Convention, and at it, the battle for the Democratic nomination can get down to real cases and real issues. Whichever candidate comes out on top, I feel much better now about the process going forward than worried that mass hysteria will determine the outcome.