He's being coy. Withholding the fund raising numbers for a few days. Keeping a low profile in the media. This is so smart.
The longer Hillary stands out there on those sweeping flat stages, the backgrounds festooned with Bush/Rove style slogans, recycling her calibrated gestures and intonations--the more she does that, the more undecided Democrats will drift away from her. Obama doesn't have to do anything. She will do it herself.
If I am right, if Obama's reserve is tactical, it's brilliant. He represents a whole new possibility in our politics, in world politics--and possibility is, by its nature, indefinite. The Clintons represent a politics that defined the public landscape for the last 40 years. The meaning of Hillary is given, settled, finished. All she can do is underline it.
And it is so early in the cycle. If Barack holds himself in reserve, he can emerge toward the end of 2007 in a form that could capture the unpredictable contours of that moment. But Hillary is stuck. She can only keep digging the ditch she is in and hope it leads to victory.
But here's what Obama needs if he is to remain in reserve successfully for however long the circumstances will allow. He needs a spokesperson. He needs a Joe Trippi, a James Carville. He needs someone who can get out there on the media platforms and represent him without being him, adding to the mystique all the while.
And here's who that person should be. She should be a really smart, funny white woman of a certain age--a Molly Ivins or Susan Estrich type. A woman who can shout and flirt and parry and deflect and just plain have fun while she's yakking on the talk shows with whoever comes along. Unfortunately, Susan is already committed to Hillary and the wonderful Molly has passed on, but the point is the type--a woman who suggests through her very persona that women don't have to conform to cultural expectations of any kind, "progressive" or otherwise.
Here's one--perhaps the main--reason why such a woman should be Barack's spokesperson while he holds himself in reserve. The swing voters that will matter most in the Democratic primaries will be women--especially women between 20 and 45, women who mostly take for granted what first wave feminists achieved and so don't feel bound to support The First Woman President no matter what, but still might do so because--hey, all things being equal, let's give it to the girl for a change.
These swing voters will be faced with this choice: do I see myself in Hillary and vote, accordingly, for Time Magazine's 2006 person of the year, namely me? Or do I see the world in Obama and choose to move beyond all that 90s narcissism? These women would respond to a naughty auntie--naughty, but sensible and humane--who could model a way through that decision.