So is Barack Obama a Muslim? That's the question 60 Minutes' Steve Croft put to Hillary Clinton, in an interview aired just before her candidacy was brought back from the dead by her solid primary victories last week.
What should her answer have been?
Something like: "Of course not, Steve. He's a member of the United Church of Christ, and anyway, what difference does it make? Every one in this race is a loyal American. This is not about religion. This is about who is best prepared to be president."
That's not, however, how Hillary Rodham Nixon works.
"I take him [Obama] on the basis of what he says," she said instead. You could hear the nasty little wheels spinning: One slip, and she could be facing a lifetime as a mere aging U.S. senator, worrying about getting money for a war memorial in Syracuse.
If her fangs flashed too brightly, she might be toast. So she continued talking, looking for a spot where she could slip in the stiletto. "I take him on the basis of what he says, and, you know, there isn't really any reason to doubt that."
Those were clever words; denying that he was a Muslim in words designed to stir doubt. Good, but not quite enough. And then she saw her moment and the knife flashed.
No, he was not a Muslim ... "As far as I know."
One of the best TV reporters in this town, a man with many years experience, told me, "That was truly Nixonian." And that's exactly what it was. Somewhere in the cosmic muck, whatever passed for Richard Nixon's soul had to be quivering in ecstasy. Yes, Tricky Dick — who spent his early career learning and refining the art of character assassination — has a disciple. Someone just as ruthless, unlikable and nasty as he always was.
Whatever else this campaign has done, it has revealed the real Hillary Clinton. Yes, she is intelligent. But she is also virtually impossible to like, especially if you look at what is really there.
Two women in their 60s who defended her all through the years of slimy attacks told me last week that they were through. "I can't vote for her if she is the nominee," one said.
"I can't even stand to see her speak," said the other, a well-known attorney, after Hillary Clinton said John "Hundred Years' War" McCain was better prepared than Barack Obama.
That doesn't mean that Clinton's gutter tactics were the only reason Obama lost decisively in Ohio and narrowly in Texas, a state that everyone felt could go either way.
Sooner or later, the breaks and the press were bound to go against the new kid on the block. There are signs that Obama was a bit too confident. And she has far more skill at knife fighting than he does.
Obama seemed totally caught off-guard when the story broke that he was allegedly not really going to demand changes in NAFTA (according to a leak from somebody in the Canadian government, based on some highly dubious chitchat from an Obama adviser).
What he should have done is pointed out that the North American Free Trade Agreement was negotiated by none other than Hillary Clinton's husband, though she now would like you to think she had always been against it. This is significant, because she likes to pretend she had a major share in making virtually any other major decision in Bill Clinton's administration.
Apparently, however, she just happened to be baking cookies or watching the red phone when the NAFTA deal went down. She should have been called on this, but frankly, winning Ohio was probably never in the cards for Obama to begin with. It is a very odd state.
Ohioans tend to be distrustful of charm and charisma and anything intellectual. John F. Kennedy found that out, to his bitter amazement, when huge crowds of Buckeyes came out to cheer him — and then voted for Richard M. Nixon by a landslide.
They are solidly Republican, and even the Democrats tend to be blue-collar, conservative types. Clinton was the Republican in this race, and indeed, she drew a large crossover vote.
Newspaper editors in Ohio told me that some precincts ran out of Democratic ballots. Republicans were voting, and voting for her. They think they know how to beat her in November. They don't have a playbook for running against this new kind of candidate.
That doesn't mean Obama didn't have appeal. Four years ago, John Kerry won Ohio's primary with 632,590 votes. In losing this time, Barack Obama got far more than that — 982,489. But Clinton got an overwhelming 1.2 million.
Texas was much closer, and Obama apparently ended up with more delegates. But in the long run, the Ohio primary's biggest impact may be on two other states — Florida and Michigan — because it made having a second vote essential.
Why Michigan now has to vote again: Here's what last week's Clinton victories really mean: Without Michigan and Florida, neither candidate can reach a majority before the convention. Nor is either liable to drop out before the primary process is through.
What's more, no matter what happens, the Obama forces are likely to go to the convention with more pledged delegates. If so, they will never vote to seat the now-disqualified Michigan and Florida delegates. Especially not those from Michigan, where Obama's name wasn't even on the ballot.
So they have to do it again. Practically speaking, the best possibility would be a "firehouse primary," a caucus that is privately run by the Democratic Party and which looks like a primary. That's what the Democrats did here four years ago.
Ironically, the state's ham-handed party leaders could now end up getting what they wanted in the first place. By being almost the last major state to choose delegates, they could have more influence over picking the nominee than ever before. Far more, that is, than if the party had allowed them to go first.
What a system ... and what a country.
This week's Kwame Moment in History: Actually happened three days ago, when the Free Press dropped the long-rumored other shoe. Further mining of the infamous text messages showed a pattern of awarding city contracts and giving secret insider information to his good buddy Bobby Ferguson. (The messages themselves make The Sopranos look like good citizens.)
Bobby is a lovely fellow who was sentenced to 10 months in the slam in 2005 for pistol-whipping and permanently disabling one of his employees. But he remained Kwame and Christine's good friend, or as he put in his text messages, "bruh."
When more public money was available to spend, Ferguson texted Beatty, "Don't FORGET ABOUT YOUR BRUH."
"Never," replied the sex goddess of the Kwame Era.
Everyone is innocent until proven guilty, but if the text messages the Free Press published are true — and no one has denied them — it won't be enough to demand that Kilpatrick resign.
This guy clearly belongs in prison. With his bruhs, naturally.Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Contact him at [email protected]