In­evitable yet again

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - KATH­LEEN PARKER kath­leen­parker@wash­post.com

With the lat­est poll num­bers tal­lied and po­lit­i­cal pun­dits hav­ing spo­ken, a con­sen­sus has emerged: Hil­lary Clin­ton won the first Demo­cratic de­bate and, bar­ring a Beng­hazi piñata ex­plod­ing with rev­e­la­tions, has cinched the nom­i­na­tion.

Rea­sons cited for Clin­ton’s su­pe­rior per­for­mance have been well hashed by now. Her deft par­ry­ing placed her left-of-cen­ter but right-of-San­ders. She’s a pro­gres­sive, she de­clared, but a prag­matic per­son who likes to get things done.

A com­pro­miser, in other words. Or per­haps a woman who has learned how to lis­ten and un­der­stands that pol­i­tics re­quires give and take.

In Las Ve­gas Tues­day night, Clin­ton care­fully staked out ter­ri­tory that wouldn’t alien­ate lib­er­als nor nec­es­sar­ily frighten in­de­pen­dents — or even mod­er­ate Repub­li­cans, to the ex­tent any re­main.

Her suc­cess also rested in part on com­pe­ti­tion that, with the ex­cep­tion of Bernie San­ders, was, how shall we put it . . . Lil­liputian. Lin­coln Chafee’s whine about cast­ing a re­gret­table Sen­ate vote be­cause he had just ar­rived in Wash­ing­ton and his fa­ther had died was cring­ingly pa­thetic.

Nei­ther Jim Webb, who should be a Repub­li­can, nor Martin O’Mal­ley dis­turbed the night. San­ders, though out­ma­neu­vered by Clin­ton, nonethe­less did well enough for his base of sup­port­ers. But his most mem­o­rable mo­ment be­longed to Clin­ton when he de­clared that Amer­i­cans are “sick and tired of hear­ing about your damn e-mails.” “Me, too!” Clin­ton trilled to ap­plause. It’s not clear that gift-giv­ing was San­ders’s in­ten­tion. A reporter on MSNBC’S “Morn­ing Joe” said San­ders’s re­mark had been re­hearsed as a way to in­dict Clin­ton for her mis­han­dling of the e-mail sit­u­a­tion. But Clin­ton’s quick re­ac­tion sealed the deal. She and San­ders shook hands and, here­after, Clin­ton is in­oc­u­lated against the e-mail prob­lem, at least from fel­low Democrats.

Her suc­cess oth­er­wise was much more than rhetor­i­cal skills or clever tac­tics. It would be un­der­state­ment to say that Clin­ton was com­fort­able in her own skin, though she was. Or that she was au­then­tic, which is true — and usu­ally isn’t. I’ll say it: She looked fab­u­lous. This is not triv­ial. One hopes that feminism and fem­i­nists have evolved suf­fi­ciently to un­der­stand that women in the pub­lic eye don’t in­dulge van­ity for its own sake. Van­ity is some­thing they deal with as a mat­ter of busi­ness so that they can re­lax and fo­cus on more im­por­tant things. It’s the price they pay for bright lights.

Clin­ton ver­ily shim­mered with self­con­fi­dence and the light­ness of spirit that comes from know­ing you’re on your game (and that you have a good hair­cut). There’s no guess­ing what may have lib­er­ated her from the ar­mor she’s worn for so long — but she sur­passed not only her op­po­nents but also her­self. It was un­doubt­edly help­ful that Repub­li­can Ma­jor­ity Leader Kevin McCarthy had lost the House speak­er­ship over the mud­dle of Beng­hazi.

Hence­forth, her story is that Repub­li­cans cre­ated the Beng­hazi in­ves­ti­ga­tion to bring her down, as McCarthy said in so many words.

No won­der she’s so light on her feet. While at least some ju­rors are still out on the pri­vate e-mail server and Beng­hazi — and the FBI is still busy with its own in­ves­ti­ga­tion — Clin­ton must find it eas­ier to smile th­ese days.

She faces ques­tion­ing by the House Se­lect Com­mit­tee on Beng­hazi when she ap­pears be­fore the panel Oct. 22. Surely we won’t wit­ness a re­peat of two years ago when she ap­peared be­fore a dif­fer­ent panel and fu­ri­ously asked, “What dif­fer­ence, at this point, does it make?” re­fer­ring to how or why four Amer­i­cans were mur­dered in Libya.

She won’t likely blow a fuse like that again, but she’ll al­ways have to hear that ques­tion re­played by her Repub­li­can op­po­nents as they seek to un­der­mine her cred­i­bil­ity as sec­re­tary of state and, by in­fer­ence, her lack of vi­a­bil­ity to be­come com­man­der in chief.

This could backfire on Repub­li­cans if they have noth­ing to show for the money and months they’ve spent try­ing to pro­duce some­thing they can blame on Clin­ton as sec­re­tary of state. If McCarthy’s blun­der isn’t enough ev­i­dence of po­lit­i­cal mo­ti­va­tion, it at least re­minded vot­ers that smoke can be a sign not just of fire but also of mir­rors.

There’s some­thing else that emerged from de­bate night. Clin­ton was fi­nally able to demon­strate that she’s just as smart as, if not smarter than, her hus­band. For many years a sec­ond to his first place, Hil­lary is now the Clin­ton peo­ple think of first.

Her in­evitabil­ity, which hasn’t been so for the past sev­eral months, ap­pears to be on the rise again. And Clin­ton, it seems, owes Repub­li­cans a note of grat­i­tude.

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