POLITICS
03/28/2008 02:46 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Dowd: You Can't Be Elected President Unless You Prove You're Tough

I was covered in barbecue sauce, somewhere over Texas, when Barack Obama loped down the aisle of the plane to chat with reporters.

I felt guilty, because I had been covering his speeches urging parents to make their kids give up chips and Popeyes. I hadn't yet come to grips with the notion of giving up Popeyes when Obama -- slender, chewing Nicorette and perfectly groomed in his crisp white shirt -- came upon me. I was splattered with so much red sauce it could have been a scene from "Saw IV." Not only on my face and hands but all over the candidate's picture in the U.S. News & World Report I was reading.

"It's on my ear," he complained, looking down at the magazine.

Feeling cocky after 11 straight wins, he called me "MoDowd" and tweaked me for my many columns suggesting he would need to toughen up to beat the Clinton machine. "She's trying to give me hair on my chest," he said mockingly, plucking at his shirt.

After losing Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island and his mojo, and getting whipsawed around by Hillary and his own chuckleheaded coterie of advisers, he will now have to come to grips with something he has always skittered away from: You can't be elected president unless you prove you're tough.

Hillary's undeniably tough, as even admiring conservatives admit. The Wall Street Journal op-ed page dubbed her Ma Barker, saying she had tapped into the angst of blue-collar women who know they have to ignore their "moping" men and "suck it up and hold the house together."

Ma Clinton knows where Obambi's soft spots are; she knows he likes being petted on his pedestal, that he's unnerved by her, and that he can never fully accept how shameless she is. What could be more shameless than suggesting to Democrats that John McCain would make a better commander in chief than Obama?

The Obama campaign seems naïve when it keeps reacting with hurt feelings and play-by-the-rules protestations to the Clinton modus vivendi of grabbing the slightest slip and ripping it open. Hillary's kneecapper Howard Wolfson compares the goo-goo Obama campaign to Ken Starr with a straight face.

The superdelegates are watching to see if Obama can stiffen his backbone. After seeing their candidates lose races they should have won in 2000 and 2004 because they flinched at Republican political waterboarding, Democrats do not want to watch the bully swipe their lollipop a third time.

Obama's multiculturalism is a selling point with many Democrats. But his impassioned egghead advisers have made his campaign seem not only out of his control, but effete and vaguely foreign -- the same unflattering light that doomed Michael Dukakis and John Kerry.

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