01/08/2008 09:29 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Hillary and Bill, and Getting What You Ask For

First, on Hillary.

It's almost hard to remember political landscape just a few weeks ago, before Obama began his surge, but as I faintly recall, Hillary was completely outclassing all of the men in the debates, and doing an impressive job of giving us our first viable female candidate at the top of the ticket. When she was basically lapping the field, Markos Moulitsas said in a blog that a lot of voters seemed to be saying they couldn't remember why she was supposed to be so bad, and she actually seemed pretty good. She wasn't just an effective debater, she seemed to have a better grasp on the job than her peers. She looked and sounded like a president.

Then, her Democratic opponents went negative, hard. It was often truly from the Republican play book, but it was also from the left. Obama in particular seemed to be particularly energized after Maureen Dowd wrote a nasty and highly personal November 18 column, detailing how the "debate dominatrix" knows how to rattle Obambi. This seemed to liberate Obama, and others. And, Obama's campaign staff became this amazing fast and effective response outfit.

As Hillary's confidence waned, and she was attacked from all sides, she made one move that truly changed perceptions about her candidacy. She began to make Bill Clinton, the ex-president, a highly visible part of her campaign. It was no longer about her, it was about "the Clintons." She may have a great story, but asking people to vote for "the wife" is not going to have the focus where it should have been, for her to connect with the voters. Women had to identify with her, and men had to love her, and I don't think that Bill was the best salesman for either task.

Second. The Republicans wanted Obama. Now they have him. What's next?

The professional Republicans truly hate Hillary, in a way that borders on the irrational. She is a moderate on foreign policy, and not particularly left on domestic policy. But they hate her, they really do. Maybe this was it. But for whatever reason, Karl Rove, George Will, Peggy Noonan, and countless other Republican hacks could barely contain themselves on how great they thought Obama was. Now, it looks like they may get Obama after all.

Is Obama a candidate the Republicans think they can beat, because he is inexperienced, without much actual achievement or management experience, prone to saying naive things about foreign policy, and because he is black? Or, does Obama actually charm and impress them, and create the opportunity for a new political alignment, in the way that FDR changed things. Will an Obama candidacy hand the White House to GOP, or bury the Republican party?

I don't think anyone really knows what type of a president Obama will be. To me, he is certainly good enough to be president. Both Obama and Hillary are effective reminders we are truly stupid to have spent more than 200 years excluding people. He might be much better than ok. Beyond making a good speech, it's hard to know. But he is an extraordinary political candidate, and I really think he can win, and win big, in November 2008. My mother, who is a lifelong Republican, and no liberal, likes Obama. So do most young people I meet (the ones who are not mobilizing for Ron Paul).

One impressive achievement of the Obama campaign is to give an entire country the opportunity to rise above an ugly history of racism and exclusion. I don't think this is a small thing, and if one needs a rationale for electing someone with a paucity of legislative and executive experience, this should count, a lot. He is a very smart and talented senator, but he is doing something much more important that getting a bill through the Congress -- he is getting our soul through a very tough barrier.

But as impressed as I am at Senator Obama's success as a candidate, I am often appalled and surprised at the treatment given recently to Hillary Clinton. The exclusion of and discrimination against women has been, and continues to be, the hallmark of nearly every society. Hillary Clinton is a smart and capable legislator, and someone that would make a good president. The ugliness of the campaign against Hillary, not by her rivals for the nomination, but by the press and by the public at large, has not been pretty.