Thursday, February 21, 2008

Looking back at the debate

Conventional wisdom held that during tonight's debate, Hillary Clinton needed to land some serious body blows on Obama to stop his momentum and re-establish herself as the candidate with the upper hand.

She had her moments where she scored some points, and he had a moment or two where he could have done better. And there was that beautiful moment at the end when she was talking about the opening of the medical center, as she described watching the wounded soliders arrive. All agree that that moment was her best -- the best -- of the night.

But she didn't make it over the bar she came in needing to clear.

Jeffrey Toobin, of whom I am not a great fan, actually taught me a word tonight: He said Clinton's final response had a "valedictory" feel to it.

I looked it up for you, and yes, it means what you think it might: From Merriam-Webster, the noun form means "a closing or farewell statement or address, especially one delivered at graduation exercises." The adjective means, "of, relating to, or expressing a valedictory."

Perfect word for the feel of Clinton's line.

I didn't catch that inflection in her voice during the live delivery, but it was apparent to me in replay. My husband, watching her reach out to Obama and shake his hand, called it a "soft concession."

It comes down to this: Hillary Clinton can read the tea leaves. She isn't trending well in the states she absolutely has to win to stay in the race. And as much as she has wanted to be president, she has to know that wonks don't match up well against dreamers -- especially in a nation founded on the grandest of dreams.

It goes back to what Gloria Borger said the night that Obama won Iowa: "She's running against inspiration. And that's a hard thing to compete against right now."