Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Hillary enters the 'No Spin Zone'

Hillary Clinton made her first appearance -- ever -- on the O'Reilly Factor tonight.

Clinton faced off with the show's self-assured, self-described "humble correspondent" namesake, Bill O'Reilly, this morning in Indiana. The interview was split into two parts, the first of which was presented tonight.

Hillary Clinton? Bill O'Reilly? Cage match fight to the death? How ugly would it get?

Once she found her footing after spending two full minutes discussing Jeremiah Wright, she was, in a word ... terrific.

Hillary went toe-to-toe with O'Reilly on taxes, oil prices, the media's coverage of the campaign and her signature issue: health care reform. He badgered her; she matched him, hit for hit. He was confrontational (I know, you're thinking: "O'Reilly? Confrontational? NOOOOO!!!!"); she deftly deflected his tone with a wide smile. He interrupted her; she kept right on talking. He tried to pigeonhole her into saying something positive about Fox News (the unforgivable in Democratic circles); she delivered the money line of the night: "Are you surprised ... that Fox News has been fairer to you than NBC News and a lot of the other liberal news networks? Are you surprised?" he said.

"I wouldn't expect anything less than a fair and balanced coverage of my campaign," she sardonically cooed.

The highlights of the interview were the segment on health care coverage, which you can see here, and the exchange about tax policy, which you can see here.

Clinton was at remarkable ease throughout the interview. She corrected O'Reilly's misstatements as necessary, laughed off his attacks and reframed her arguments to rebut his comments.

There was one curious moment when she said she had learned a lesson from Ronald Reagan about bipartisanship.

(Pause for historically relevant flashback: Barack Obama took a ton of heat from the Clintons ahead of the Nevada caucuses for saying that Reagan "changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not." I guess it's OK for Hillary Clinton to learn a lesson from Reagan, as long as she doesn't praise him ...? Another Clinton double standard.)
But that was a minor issue in an interview in which Clinton simply sparkled. If her goal was to reinforce her image as a fighter, she succeeded, and in a big way. It was as if she was sitting at a lunch table debating politics with a co-worker. Far from backing down, she forcefully defended and advanced her positions and challenged his without the strident tone that has so often characterized her style.

Her advisers had to have been thinking, "Where has this woman been all this time?"

Hillary on O'Reilly ... it had to have drawn a huge audience -- an audience, we can be sure, that included a whole lot of delegates to the Democratic National Convention -- and that's good news for the junior senator from New York.

One final note: Hillary Clinton may very well be the only person ever to get Bill O'Reilly to call President Teddy Roosevelt a socialist ("Was Teddy Roosevelt a socialist?" she said; "Somewhat," he replied).

This IS a history-making election!