At one heated point in Monday night's Democratic debate, a perturbed Barack Obama finally blurted out to Hillary Clinton what millions of others have been thinking these past weeks. After Clinton said that what her husband says might be different than what she says or what her campaign says, Obama disgustedly said "I can't tell who I'm running against sometimes."
Sorry it's come to this, but this Democratic primary nominating process has, indeed, become all about Bill Clinton. Thanks to Hillary Clinton.
The ex-president has been rolled out as campaign attack dog to bark, bite, snap and tear away at Obama in a way that Hillary -- as candidate -- cannot and will not.
Hillary can't have it both ways. You can't deploy the clout of your husband the ex-president in the middle of your campaign and then not take responsibility for every word he utters, every action he undertakes. Right down to his shameful direct intervention in a crucial polling place in last Saturday's Nevada caucuses.
But there's deeper point. Who exactly is Hillary Clinton anyway if not someone who has parasitically attached herself to the legacy and record of Bill Clinton? Without having been his First Lady, if not exactly his only lady, Ms. Clinton would be but a corporate lawyer turned junior senator from New York and with a less than sterling voting record -- including her authorization of the war in Iraq, approval of a war-mongering resolution on Iran and an inglorious bill to criminalize the national epidemic of flag-burning.
"Elections are about the future," Clinton said tonight, parroting the most moth-eaten of campaign clichés. But Hillary has made it strictly about the past as her only affirmative argument for the future is to resurrect the politics of the previous decade.
In Monday night's debate, all three candidates went at each other. But Obama finally opened up some cuts on the Clintons, calling out Hillary for lecturing him about supposedly being soft on Reagan. "While I was working in the streets watching those folks watch their jobs shift overseas," he said staring at Clinton and referring to those who suffered under Reagan's policies, "you were a corporate lawyer sitting on the board of Wal-Mart."
It might be too little too late on Obama's part. But it was absolutely the right thing to do. Hillary has made Bill, his record, his approach to politics, his policies, his style and her embodiment of all the above the central issue in the campaign. The only honorable position for any opponent of Clinton's is to take her -- and him -- on.