02/13/2008 05:54 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

A Major Integrity Test For Hillary And Bill Is Now Looming

I didn't feel sorry for her when she choked up in New Hampshire. I didn't think it was faked, but she used it pretty skillfully. She was on top of it. But I did feel sorry for her last night, watching her mount the stage in El Paso, Texas, watching her keep that brave front up, incipient despair mixed with exhaustion visible in the lines of her face and behind her eyes. She was not on top of that, and I felt sorry for her.

She marched determinedly through the same old lines, the same old gestures and intonations -- plus some imitative add-ons about young people and their hopes and dreams, trying to rev up a listless crowd just one more time, a trooper to the end. But they knew and she knew that that as soon as she was done, this young man from nowhere and everywhere, a genius of politics in this mediated age, was going to mount another stage in Madison, Wisconsin, before a crowd he could count on to rev him up, no matter what. And they knew and she knew that, somehow, he would strike all the right notes at all the right moments and move on. And he did.

Not only did he drive the last nail into the coffin of the "false hopes" bit, he began to showcase his campaign against McCain. He went after electability -- but positively (yet again), by previewing how he would take on McCain. And it looked pretty good, with much more to come.

Electability is the last argument the Clintons have. Never mind the polls that show Obama beating McCain by a wider margin than Hillary. That's a gossamer snapshot on windy night. What people who know their stuff are still wondering (John Edwards, for example) is will Obama be able to take the heat and strike back when the dirtball pros on the Republican right go after him for months on end. When Bill and Hillary say they can handle that -- they've been vetted, they've been tested, it's true and everybody knows it. We all remember that. So that's their last argument.

Which translates into a big decision for them in Ohio and Texas. Will they decide to go negative themselves? Will they insist on seating Florida and Michigan at the convention? Either one or both of those and they put democratic unity in peril.

Some cynics thought that when she choked up in New Hampshire it was narcissistic self-pity, a how-can-you-not-elect-me-after-all-I've-been-through moment. Hillary herself said it was because she so desperately wanted the country not to fall back yet further under another Republican regime.

The way the Clintons choose to go forward now will tell us which it was.