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I Agree With Alex

By Mark Simpson

So the Scots Nationalist Party has failed in its court action to force the BBC to include their leader Alex Salmond in the final TV leaders’ debate. Everyone south of the border working in politics and the media seems to be very much agreed that this was the ‘right’ outcome. Except for this Englishman. Not least because of the breathtaking, downright imperious hypocrisy of the Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg.

Clegg couldn’t wait for the court decision. He claimed a few days ago that Salmond was “stamping his foot on the sidelines in fury that he’s not on this debate programme. The broadcasters have arrived at the particularly reasonable position that the debates should be held by the three people fighting this campaign up and down the UK.”’

A ‘particularly reasonable decision’ because the chief beneficiary was Nick Clegg – someone who, if you remember, was mostly stamping his foot on the sidelines until he appeared on the TV debate himself a few weeks ago, upstaging the other two party leaders (‘Who is that new guy with the nice hair?’) and provoking a wave of Cleggmania by calling for an end to the ‘old politics’. Perhaps he’s worried that if Salmond is permitted to appear beside him he might be upstaged by the new boy the way he did Brown and Cameron.

Especially since Salmond has a cheeky, Shrek-like, twinkly-eyed man-of-the-people quality that would probably play very well next to Cameron and Clegg’s silver spooning and Brown’s apparatchik chic. The last thing that Clegg wants is to be out-Clegged.

Of course, none of the three main Westminster parties – or the BBC – want to share the limelight with Salmond on their political X Factor show. David McLetchie, head of the Scottish Tories’ election campaign was equally dismissive of Salmond’s bid, invoking the ‘British’ thing: “It’s British general election. Alex Salmond isn’t a candidate in this British election and he doesn’t want to be prime minister. In fact, he wants to destroy the UK.’

In other words: we don’t want him on the show because he won’t play by our rules. But contrary to how it has been portrayed in the media, this isn’t an American Presidential Candidate debate – this is a party leader’s debate. And Salmond is the leader of a party that has several MPs in Westminster – and is running Scotland.

What these arguments overlook – deliberately – is that post-devolution, and with a party devoted to total independence for Scotland in power at Holyrood, ‘Britain’ as a political project has largely already ceased to exist. This is the really ‘old politics’ that the Palace of Westminster doesn’t want to give up. The Union and the imperial identity it engendered is pretty much a dead letter. We’re just waiting for the decree nisi.  Which admittedly has probably been delayed in the post by the recession – but rest assured a Tory Government in Westminster would certainly help focus Scottish minds on their future again.

North of the border almost no one with a Scottish accent is ‘British’, while south of the border it’s usually a way of not talking about the English – or letting them have their own Parliament, or National holiday. Or in the case of the TV election debates, ‘British’ means two slick, super-posh Englishmen in nice suits laying into the plain Scots guy in a bad one. Which is no doubt part of the reason why Salmond wants to muscle in.

Allowing Salmond on the show would be an acknowledgement of how out of touch the ‘old politics’ really is. It would break the spell of ‘let’s pretend she’s just having a kip’ that surrounds the demise of Britannia. Neither Clegg, nor Cameron nor Brown, nor the British Broadcasting Corporation, want to do that because it would severely puncture their own imperial and imperious self-importance.

Now that it’s clear that the TV election debates effectively are the election campaign, let’s have the SNP in one of them next time – and why not Plaid Cymru, UKIP and, if they win any seats, the English Democrats?  Let’s take an honest look at the crazy-paved, devolved nature of post-imperial 21st Century UK politics. After all, 90 minutes is a very long time to spend watching two Blair impersonators and an automaton audition for the part of Emperor With No Clothes.  Especially without a camp Irish compère to lighten the mood.  Bring on, I say, the political version of Britain’s Got Talent.

Clegg talks a lot about an end to the old politics, the urgency of the need for Proportional Representation and how coalitions are not something to be afraid of, but instead welcomed: politics as complicated, grown-up stuff.   But of course coalition government and PR mean taking ‘fringe’ parties that don’t happen to be the Lib Dems a little more seriously.  It means an end not just to two party politics but also and end to three party politics.  And the fond notion that Westminster is still the centre of the world.

Copyright Mark Simpson 2010

Oh Do Stop Nailing Blair to the Cross – He Enjoys It

Tony Blair’s Jesus Christ Sings Edith Piaf performance yesterday at The Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre, giving testimony at the Chilcot enquiry into Britain’s involvement in the Iraq War, disappointed a lot of people who hoped he would get nailed – or at least express a few regrets.

I’m not one of them. Now, I enjoy a good scourging as much as the next man, especially in the wake of a war that has cost so many lives, but it seems to me that the expectations of the media and public played into Blair’s (stigmata) hands.

Tone the Catholic convert barrister excels at crucifixions and turned in a performance Mel Gibson would envy yesterday, hanging from the cross of his ‘belief’ that ‘removing Saddam Hussein was the right thing to do’. For all the spears in his side, nothing was made to stick. He won’t need to rise on the third day because unlike Our Lord Jesus Christ he didn’t die – instead he thrived.

Besides, the thing that many if not most people in the UK long to pin on him – personal and complete responsibility for our involvement in a disastrous US war – isn’t something that can be really pinned on any one British politician, however annoying his grin. It has to be pinned on history. The history of the UK’s ‘special relationship’ with the United States.

Blair is more than happy to play the self-aggrandising role he’s been allotted by public opinion and the public is only further infuriated by the evidence of this.  Blair of course interprets his role not as The Man Who Invaded Iraq Illegally And Has Blood on His Hands, but as The International Statesman Burdened by Heavy Responsibilities, Special Knowledge and Big Decisions Reluctantly Made to Guarantee Our and An Ungrateful World’s Safety.

But it’s essentially the same role: A bigger one than he deserves. Blair is a much more pitiful figure than most of his enemies are willing to admit.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be offering Blair a vinegar-soaked sponge, but scapegoating him as all sides of the political spectrum want to do – He lied to us! He was sycophantic to Bush! A poodle! A narcissist! – obscures the larger, much more painful issue: that the UK invaded Iraq not because of weapons of mass destruction. Nor Al Qaeda. Nor Saddam’s tyranny. Nor Zionism. Nor even for oil. And certainly not because Tony Blair is a weak man or a strong man. No, in the final analysis there was only one reason why we invaded Iraq. Because the US wanted us to.

Jump is what military satellites of imperial powers do when their master tells them to, and it’s very difficult to imagine that any other British Prime Minister since 1940, with the possible exception of Harold Wilson (and look what happened to him – you can be sure that Blair did) could have said ‘thanks, but no thanks’ to Uncle Sam’s kind invitation, especially after it had been attacked on 9-11. The fact that Saddam had nothing to do with that attack is irrelevant – or at least it was for America’s need for vengeance.

The Tories certainly wouldn’t have said ‘no’, and their attempts now to wriggle out of their enthusiastic support for the war – without which Blair would not have won his Commons war vote – by bleating about being ‘misled’ by Blair is just shameless opportunism.

The former premier that Blair most calls to mind is Anthony Eden, who was forced out of office after the disaster of Suez in 1956. Eden bigged up Nasser as a ‘monster’ threatening his own people and The World – and also famously lied to Parliament to justify  invasion, but this isn’t why he ended up shamed and shunned, even more so than Blair. By fatally misjudging America’s wishes, Eden had rubbed the UK’s nose in its post-war subject status. Suez was actually a much more ‘justifiable’ war from the point of view of British interests than Iraq – the canal was British and French owned and the route to (what was left of) the Empire.

But the Americans were not amused: they were competing with the USSR at the time for anti-colonial cred and told us to bog off back home. And we did, pronto. Eden was so reviled at home not for lying as many claimed, or even for losing, but because he succeeded in making it embarrassingly clear to everyone, most especially the French, that the UK no longer had a sovereign foreign policy. He shamed us in the world’s eyes. In our own eyes.

Likewise with Blair. Those loud complaints about Blair’s ‘sycophancy’ to George Bush over Iraq – well, really it’s mostly about how we don’t like to be reminded of our national sycophancy towards US interests, unavoidable as it may very well be. Sometimes its that very unavoidability that makes it so painful.

Blair, ever the actor, decided to make a virtue of what he saw as a political necessity. And in doing so found that like Thatcher before him the US gave him a global stage to preen upon. But this is what the US has done to the UK since the Second World War.

As a military satellite of the US – or giant American aircraft carrier, as the great American anti-imperialist Gore Vidal puts it – we’ve been bigged up by US power as a way of further projecting that power around the world. Like, say, Austria-Hungary was by Germany in the early Twentieth Century, but with slightly less interesting headgear. As a result we have remained far too big for our post-Imperial, post-industrial, post-everything breeches. Though we of course prefer to term it: ‘punching above our weight’. As if punching above your weight was something clever. Even when you’re not teetering as we now are on the verge of bankruptcy.

In hindsight, to save our sensibilities Blair should have made it look like the UK wasn’t so easy. He should have made Bush wine and dine us more – and put up more of a virtuous struggle before giving Bush everything he wanted and was going to get anyway. Instead Tone seems to have gone the whole way on the first date. We feel cheap instead of ‘special’.

True, the way Blair and his minions set about terrorising us and his own party with fairy stories of WMDs was very naughty indeed, but as he now cheerfully admits, if it hadn’t been WMDs it would have been something else. After all, we elect politicians to lie to us. And did anyone, apart from David Aaronovitch, really believe any of it? Something else that shouldn’t be forgotten: Blair would probably still be in power and only hated by a small ‘bitter’ minority of the British public if the US occupation of Iraq hadn’t gone so spectacularly awry – he was remember, like his master Bush, feted by the press and much of the public in the immediate aftermath of the invasion. They only fell out of favour when they seemed like losers rather than winners.

Nailing Blair to the cross of Iraq now won’t change what happened, or even stop something like it happening again. In fact, by obscuring the real nature of our ‘special relationship’ with the US and instead blaming one man’s weakness and mendacity, it may make it easier for it to happen again.

And it is already happening again. In a war that threatens to make Iraq look like a picnic. Despite all the discussion and debate in the UK media about why we’re still in Afghanistan after eight years, what we hope to achieve, and what tactics should be employed, everyone in the media knows – but doesn’t say – there is only one reason why we’re in Afghanistan. Because the Americans are. Everything else is hot air. Or, in the case of Brown’s claims that the war in Afghanistan has to be fought to stop terrorist attacks in London: another 45 Minute WMD lie that no one believes.

Gordon Brown, Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time of the Iraq Invasion and now Prime Minister in large part because of Blair’s unpopularity over Iraq, is very fortunate to have US imperial interests represented these days by someone much more appealing and persuasive than George W Bush. Someone who gets handed plaudits and Nobel Peace Prizes just for being elected. But however nice his smile is, the Emperor is the Emperor and our troops must still die for him.  Why are we sending even more soldiers to Afghanistan? To liberate women, build power plants, and stop people being blown up on London buses? No. They’re going because Barack ‘I-didn’t-vote-for-that-war!’ Obama says so.

Blair should be held to account for his actions of course, but we shouldn’t fall for his self-aggrandising view of himself and history. Even if it takes our mind off the rather vulgar details of the ‘special relationship’ and how embarrassingly, vanishingly small our influence is over our transatlantic boss.

Limo Liberals Take The High Road to Defeat

By Mark Simpson

Claiming the moral high ground is, in my view, the lowest form of politics. No doubt this means that, like the voters of Pennsylvania, I don’t read The New York Times enough.

We’re really missing out. Yesterday’s haughty editorial in the wake of Senator Clinton’s convincing victory in that key state, despite having the Democratic grandees and the media on her back, and despite being outspent by Obama nearly 3-1, was headlined: ‘The low road to victory’. Congratulations on your win, Hillary!

The editorial, which managed the impressive feat of sounding both screeching and condescending at the same time, accused her campaign of being:

‘…even meaner, more vacuous, more desperate, and more filled with pandering than the mean, vacuous, desperate, pander-filled contests that preceded it.’

Wow. You make it sound much more fun than it actually was.

‘Voters are getting tired of it; it is demeaning the political process; and it does not work.’

Because the NYT says so? Or because it produces big wins for Hillary? But you have to admire a newspaper that can actually print the sentence ‘demeaning the political process’ without it being the punch-line to a joke. Of course, just about the only thing that can ‘demean the political process’ is airy-fairy, hypocritical posturing in place of a good, honest – and, let’s face it, thoroughly entertaining – punch-up.

Limo liberals gazing out at the world through their smoked-glass rear windows while cruising along the moral high road might not know this, but blue collar workers who happen to be the electoral backbone of the Democratic Party appear to. Hillary certainly knows it, which is why she repeatedly compared herself to Rocky – a ‘low’ reference which no doubt also caused the NYT to wrinkle its patrician nose. Either way, the NYT has had enough of this vulgarity:

‘It is past time for Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton to acknowledge that the negativity, for which she is mostly responsible, does nothing but harm to her, her opponent, her party and the 2008 election.’

And how would you like her to make that acknowledgement? By throwing in the towel? Committing suicide? Writing a mea culpa letter to the NYT? All three? If only Hillary would get out of the way, stop fighting and dragging everything down into the mud of hick states like Pennsylvania, we could get on with the business of reading the NYT:

‘After seven years of George W. Bush’s failed with-us-or-against-us presidency, all American voters deserve to hear a nuanced debate.’

Yes! America is crying out for nuance! From sea to shining sea, from Pennsylvania to California, they shout: give me nuance! Not jobs, peace, security, housing, or a Democratic candidate for the White House that can actually win, or even a serious set-to proper fight, as if any of this stuff really mattered – but civilised, sensible, op-ed nuance. (Not that there’s much nuance in this particular example, though.)

In point of fact, it’s past time that the Democratic Party and the NYT thanked Hillary for fighting dirty.

By fighting dirty – that’s to say, openly attacking her opponent instead of relying on email newsletters, memos, partisan journalism and the poisonous hysteria of fans as Obama has done until now – Hillary has begun to awaken the Democratic Party to the unpalatable truth it’s been avoiding for so long: that the Dali Obama has little or no life outside the Democratic Party and its sensitivities. He is the perfect candidate for defeating her, but the perfect one for the Republicans to destroy. She’s given them a small, relatively restrained taste of what the GOP will do with him – and where they will shove his halo. It’s past time for the NYT and the grandees of the Democratic Party to get down on their expensively tailored knees and thank her for doing so before it was too late.

Limo liberals will never thank her, of course. For many of them Obama was never really meant to win anything more than the Democratic Candidacy. Winning the Presidency itself would be far too vulgar, too ‘low’. He was meant to bring them something much more valuable than a change of Government, especially for those who already have everything. He was meant to make them feel good about themselves. Come polling day, he was supposed, like all Messiahs, to die. The Senator for Illinois is a human sacrifice designed to prove the moral superiority of liberals to the ‘Repugs’, as they like to call them – and in fact to politics itself.

The very reason Hillary is hated and scorned by the limo liberals is because she didn’t leave it to the Republicans to destroy their idol. She forced him to show his hand – and feet of clay – and splutter predictable lies, as he did in the last TV debate. ‘John McCain should go on holiday, Hillary is doing his work for him’ protested recovering Republican millionairess Arianna Huffington recently on her Obama-worshipping Hillary-loathing website.

No, Arianna darling, Hillary is doing the work that liberal journalists should be doing but aren’t because they’ve gone on permanent vacation in ObamaLand: she’s pulled back the curtain and showed the Wizard of Chicago to be… shock! horror! a politician. And a very inexperienced, untested one at that, who, even without Pastor Wright et al bumping around in his very crowded closet, will be crucified by the Republicans. Unceremoniously. There will be nothing morally satisfying or redeeming about it at all: it will just be messy, sickening and brutal. The NYT really will have something to be indignant about then – but it will be far too late.

But perhaps Hillary’s greatest crime, and her ‘lowest’ trick, is not being more electable than Obama and refusing to keep quiet about that, but asking who does the Democratic Party really belong to? Arianna Huffington, the New York Times and the former President of the Harvard Law Review, alias Mr Obama – or ‘bitter’ Scranton, Pennsylvania?

Shame on her. How low can you go?

© Mark Simpson 2008

Who’s the Diva? Hillary or Obama?

As camp comic Kenneth Williams might say: ‘ark at ‘er!

An entertaining, often incisive, if rather, er, campy, Huffington Post article ‘The Diva’s Camp’ about Hillary’s diva power (and why this turns off ‘Obama-colytes’) compares Hillary Clinton to Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest:

‘Hillary Clinton is possessed by the spirit of Joan Crawford. Like that notorious über-bitch immortalized by Faye Dunaway in the camp classic Mommie Dearest, Hillary bulldozed into a Democratic primary dominated by men and brazenly declared, as any self-respecting diva would: Don’t fuck with me fellas! This ain’t my first time at the rodeo!’

Now, that’s funny, but where did I hear that before?

Oh, yes, that was me a month ago talking about the “3am” ad in a piece after her Ohio comeback called ‘The Bitch is Back’ on Guardian Unlimited:

‘…Hillary answering the White House phone in scarlet lipstick, has both a touch of 1990s nostalgia, and also one of timeless thrilling glamour – a hint of Joan Crawford talking to the board of Pepsi in Mommie Dearest: “Don’t fuck with me, fellas – this ain’t my first time at the rodeo!“‘

Even though I hear that Guardian Unlimited is quite popular in the American blogosphere, I’m sure it was just a case of diva-revering minds thinking alike. And I very much doubt I’m the first person to compare Hills to Joan.

Actually, though, we weren’t really thinking alike. Despite my comparison when discussing the ad, I don’t think that Hillary is possessed by the spirit of Joan Crawford, or is camp as a row of tents full of impossible divas on the blob. Apart from anything else, camp isn’t really possible in a world like the all-singing, all-dancing shameless one that cavorts and disports itself before our jaded eyes these days.

Everything and nothing is camp. Including the Huffington Post. More to the point, to talk about Hillary as being ‘so camp!’ seems to argue, whether intended or not, that the notion of a woman as the most powerful person in the world is merely ‘failed seriousness’. Or a joke.

And this is a very serious business. Medically serious. Sometimes it looks as if the Democratic Party is having a gigantic nervous breakdown over the idea of Hills as their ‘man’, or, rather, over the ‘arrogant’, ‘hopeless’, ‘divisive’, ‘ugly’ idea that she thinks she could be rather than Mr Obama. It’s tangibly Oedipal.

Despite that, I do believe that America is slowly, slowly, very, very tortuously, negotiating the five-alarm idea of having a ‘bitch’ and ‘cow’ and ‘whore’ and ‘c**t’ – to use the progressive, uplifting, non-partisan vernacular of righteous Obama fans – as Commander in Chief. America will learn not to cross its legs and whimper when Hillary is on TV, even if MSNBC’s Tucker Carlson doesn’t.

After all, Hillary has almost all of the crucial big states, and if the Democrats used the same first-past-the-post electoral system used during the Presidential contest itself, she would be well ahead of Obama. Contrary to what the media likes to tell us, she’s anything but Box Office Poison.

Perhaps because it attracts insecure men keen to big themselves up, it seems to be mostly the US media that’s having the nervous breakdown. The more than slightly deranged and hysterical – certainly much more deranged and hysterical than she is accused of being – nature of the press bias against Hillary and the extreme, frequently all-but murderous personal abuse casually levelled at her,compared with the loving, swooning indulgence bestowed on her stripling rival, does rather suggest that anxiety about a female Big Boss, thus far at least, looms and lurks much larger in their minds, than a black (or, rather, half-white) male one. This isn’t to say that ‘sexism is worse than racism’, it’s just to point out that sexism – no, sorry, untrammelled, uninhibited, shuddering, shivering, gut-wrenching misogyny – unlike racism, is considered perfectly acceptable prime time fare.

And as somebody who isn’t entirely free of misogyny myself, I think it terribly unfair that they should be able to get away with it.

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Sometimes, watching the American Primaries coverage has been like watching an especially horrifying episode of 60s retrosexist drama Mad Men, but without the irony or the smoking.

In her bitter battle to win this unconscious – and therefore by definition unfair – struggle, Hillary is using every powerful American feminine archetype she can lay her hands on. Unfortunately for her, there aren’t too many. Unlike our first female leaderene Mrs T (whom America loved, partly because she was, like Churchill, and Tony Blair, great at giving America head, but mostly because she wasn’t their leader), she doesn’t have chariot-driving Boudicca or Armada-vanquishing Elizabeth I or globe-ruling Victoria to call on as legitimising ancestral memories.

Because of the vital symbolic importance of these women in our national mythology, or maybe just because of Coronation Street, the UK is sometimes rather more matriarchal than the US. Elton John, who admittedly is not perhaps the best argument for matriarchy, recently announced himself shocked by the misogyny America has displayed during these Primaries.

Republics and their ‘Founding Fathers’ favour women even less than monarchies. Monarchies, which are after all based on reproduction and families, occasionally cut them a break, when no worthy male heir turns up – which is what happened with the Tory Party in the 1970s when it anointed Maggie. Though if she had used the famous line of Elizabeth, “I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too,” everyone would have scoffed at the idea that her body was ‘weak and feeble’. Even her famous handbag was seen as a fearsome weapon.

Powerful women in American history, save perhaps Eleanor Roosevelt, don’t really exist – except as kindling in Arthur Miller plays. So they had to be imagined in 1940s Hollywood melodrama, aimed, of course, at powerless women: producing, literally, ‘divas’ such as Joan, Bette and Katherine. So if Hillary sometimes channels a little bit of Joan, Bette and Katherine it’s because she needs to imagine herself as a powerful woman in a man’s world, and American history doesn’t offer her much else to work with.

OK, she might possibly be a psychotic bitch too, but the media has yet to make that case – though it keeps trying. Hillary isn’t possessed by the spirit of Joan Crawford, as the Huffington Post has it – rather, Joan Crawford is possessed by the spirit of Hillary.

Handsome half white/half black but entirely male (if very eager to please) Obama can and does draw on both Martin Luther King and Jack Kennedy, and in fact American political history at least as far back as Lincoln for his legitimation – and invites us, with that sexy smile, to a ‘more perfect union’. It’s an invitation that, oddly, seems to turn men on more than women. Hillary hating MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, for instance, talks openly about how how listening to Obama gives him ‘a thrill up my leg’ (a very different kind of feeling, I’m guessing, to that experienced by Tucker Carlson listening to Hillary). Lots of guys are gay for Obama – and out and proud it seems.

And as for Hillary being a ‘gay icon’, despite gay parade marching Hills being closer in many ways to the gay community than Obama, and despite (English) Elton John’s support, most American homos I know can’t bear her, while the main gay blogs practically dance on her head daily. Preposterously bearded MTM transsexual and recovering Republican Andrew Sullivan is completely obsessed, practically screaming ‘DIE, BITCH! DIE!’ at her, calling her a ‘horror movie without end’ and comparing her to Glenn Close’s insane stalker character in the infamous 80s career-woman hating flick Fatal Attraction. Get a grip, Mary. And a shave.

Despite Mr O’s reluctance to be interviewed by the gay press or attend gay parades, his Christian church base, and his gay platform vagueness, he is much the ‘gayer’ candidate simply because he is younger, better-looking, better-dressed, cooler – and male. He is, in fact, metrosexual.

If we are going to talk about camp, and if camp is a form of style over substance, mediagenic Obama is much camper than Hillary – and more of a diva too. Doesn’t he roll his eyes during debates with Hillary? Doesn’t he fill stadiums with his performances? Didn’t he flounce out of a press conference in which he was actually grilled instead of applauded in a huff, protesting ‘You’ve asked me like, eight questions already!’‘.

It’s the male divas you have to watch out for in politics. Over here in the UK we are still getting over our own Christian pop star politician, that nice Mr Blair who took us, smiling his drag queen smile, into a disastrous American war.

Copyright Mark Simpson 2008

The Bitch is Back: Hillary Comes Out Clawing

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After being written-off and told to give up, Hillary has earned grudging respect

By Mark Simpson (Guardian CIF, 6 March 2008)

What is American voters’ problem? The media, on both sides of the Atlantic, has been telling them for weeks that dreary Hillary was “finished” and that Tuesday’s primaries were going to be her “Alamo” – and that Obama, the glamorous, smooth-talking 1960s tribute act, was unstoppable. The kindly Fourth Estate made it as clear as they possibly could which way the idiots should vote on Tuesday, practically hitting them over the heads with it, and what do they do?

Only go and hand “that woman” a stunning, breathtaking – and completely unforeseen by the pundits – comeback last Tuesday, pulling the coronation carpet from under Obama and Michelle’s smartly shod feet. The cheek of it! The racism of it!

Not that you’d know Clinton won big in the Democratic primaries from reading the sulking liberal media. According to them (here and here), it was “really” Republican McCain who won.

So how did it happen? What gave the voters of Texas, Michigan and Rhode Island the nerve to defy their betters and hand Hillary victory? Well, it’s quite ironic, really. You see, it was Hillary’s willingness to become the very thing that she has been painted as being by a hostile media and Obama supporters (who for followers of a man who preaches so much about “unity” and “peace” can be awfully unpleasant).

A bitch.

Yes, of course, she was always something of a bitch anyway – how could a woman who got that far in politics not be? But in the run-up to this do-or-die primary she came out about it. Rather than shedding some tears this time, she presented herself as an out-and-proud battling bitch. She started to go after that nice Mr Obama head-on, claws out, instead of pussy-footying around, or letting hubby Bill do it from behind the lines – or hoping, vainly, that the press might subject Obama to anything other than adoring scrutiny. So she clawed him on his double-dealings over Nafta, she slapped him about over his dodgy links with slum landlords, kicked him in the nuts over his inexperience and his hot air. She became a backbiting face-scratching brawling battling bitch that you’d better not mess with.

Inevitably, battling bitch Hillary was portrayed as simply desperate and bankrupt by a disdainful media, but voters seem to have respected her for it. Voters, especially blue-collar Americans in places like Ohio already experiencing recession, have begun to see her as their bitch, able to fight their corner in difficult times – and, strangely, they’re less concerned than limousine liberals about whether this looks “cool” or “presidential” or not.

The Hillary’s now (in)famous “children” ad – “It’s 3am, your children are asleep, a phone rings in the White House” – announced the emergence of the new Hillary. Denounced by Obama as “the politics of fear”, it showed that at last she was prepared to play hardball, in public, and mess with Obama’s sainted hair. That because she was willing to run such a ruthless ad, she was the kind of person, the kind of woman, that was worthy of that office. Whoever wins the Democratic nomination will be up against the party of “national security” – in wartime. A party that won’t hesitate to play hardball will Obama’s halo.

Obama’s eager use of the “children” ad as a cue to play yet again that increasingly grating record of his blamelessness, his virgin stainlessness – “The phone DID ring, she answered it and she made the WRONG decision!” worked against him. Plaintively reminding the public how HE didn’t vote for THAT war (because, actually, he wasn’t in the Senate back then) reminded them that innocence and inexperience can be much the same thing – making him look a bit too goody-goody for the White House, with all its sulphurous compromise. That, whatever else it is, the Oval Office is not a pulpit.

Besides, didn’t Hillary spend most of the 1990s – the last time America was popular and at peace – in that house, surviving everything the Republicans could throw at her? Doesn’t her face, the one the press constantly jeers at for being so much less pretty than Obama’s (a candidate whose face appears to turn caricaturists into lovesick teenyboppers), bear the scars of those battles?

The end of the ad, Hillary answering the White House phone in scarlet lipstick, has both a touch of 1990s nostalgia, and also one of timeless thrilling glamour – a hint of Joan Crawford talking to the board of Pepsi in Mommie Dearest: “Don’t fuck with me, fellas – this ain’t my first time at the rodeo!” Or maybe Ripley in Alien: “Stay away from her you bitch!” (though of course Hillary is both Ripley and Alien Mother).

Hollywood itself didn’t rely on hints, meanwhile. The hit Jack Nicholson “Who Do You Trust?” YouTube ad – “there’s nothing sexier on this earth, believe me gentlemen, than a woman you have to salute in the morning” – endorsed, not just Hillary’s candidacy, but battling bitch Hillary: since we know a loveable bastard like Nicholson wouldn’t respect a woman boss unless she was at least his match.

After being written-off and told to give up, and fighting on regardless, her literally grim determination has earned grudging respect. People look at her face, and all the tiresomeness of it, its lines, its bitterness, its frozen, career-woman trailblazer features, and take them as terrible proof of her commitment. For Hillary, it doesn’t look like a dream; it’s closer to a nightmare. And so, of course, is real politics as opposed to stadium-rock politics. The White House is something she deserves – in every sense of the word.

Meanwhile, people looked at Obama’s much younger, much prettier, much softer, much more pleasing face, basked in his Hawaiian smile, heard his soaring words and phrases, and decided that, while this is one American Idol that they very much like the sound and look of – one who makes them feel mighty good -he just ain’t half the woman that Hillary is.

Copyright Mark Simpson 2008