Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Clintons? Liars? Whoulda thunk it?

Really too delicious for words: a group of essays, the most poignant by Jonathan Chait, wondering, Wait, whoever though the Clintons were actually liars? Chait muses:

The Clinton campaign is trying to make it seem as if the complaint is about negativity, and it is pointing out that Obama has criticized Hillary as well. That's what politicians are supposed to do when they compete for votes. But criticism isn't the same thing as lying and sleaze-mongering.

Am I starting to sound like a Clinton hater? It's a scary thought. Of course, to conservatives, it's a delicious thought. The Wall Street Journal published a gloating editorial noting that liberals had suddenly learned "what everyone else already knows about the Clintons." (By "everyone," it means Republicans.)

It made me wonder: Were the conservatives right about Bill Clinton all along? Maybe not right to set up a perjury trap so they could impeach him, but right about the Clintons' essential nature?


Not to worry, though: Chait reassures his readers that the nineties wasn't bad at all, no sirree:

Fortunately, the Journal's attempt to convince us that the Clintons have always been unscrupulous liars seemed to prove the opposite. Its examples of Clintonian lies were their claims that Bob Dole wanted to cut Medicare, that there was a vast right-wing conspiracy, that Paula Jones was "trailer trash" and that Kenneth Starr was a partisan.

Except Dole did vote to cut Medicare, there was a vast right-wing conspiracy and Starr was and is a rabid partisan. ("Trailer trash" is, of course, a matter of opinion, and it's a cruel thing to say, but as far as whether it's a lie -- well, it's not like they called William F. Buckley "trailer trash.")

So maybe the answer is that the Clintons would have smeared their opponents in the 1990s, but lying is unnecessary when the other party is doing things such as voting to slash Medicare to pay for a big tax cut for the rich.


So, first, maybe they would have lied, but they didn't (insofar as "slashing" Medicare, by Chaits's rights, is defined as voting for a reduction in the increase); and smearing an Arkansas woman is far less egregious than smearing a wealthy right-wing columnist far-better equipped to defend himself.

With this piece, Chait joins the ranks of feminists who disgraced themselves in the nineties by trashing not only Paula Jones, but also Kathleen Willey and Juannita Broderick, and who would have piled on Monica Lewinksy had their been any gain for Clinton at all.

Hey, Obama supporters: are the Clintons playing rough with you? Put a little ice on it, baby.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Championship Sunday, Part 3

And now, to relax and enjoy Giants v. Packers.

Oh, Oh, and gotta love tonight's programming:

Fox: Giants v. Packers, in the third-coldest game in NFL history.

CBS: Special Report: "The Age of Warming."

Update: Third Tyne's the Charm--Fox beat me to it.

Giants 23, Packers 20 (OT). Couldn't decide whom to root for or against; based on the "what would help the Patriots most" principle, I measured Randy Moss's ability to run past Al Harris (considerable) against the public sentiment in favor of Brett Favre (again, considerable); plus the trouble for the Pats based on the Giants' having seen the Patriots before (marginal).

It is worth considering, just to consider, that anyone who has bet against the Patriots covering since the middle of November would have made a fortune. Philly was a nail-biter. They came within one stupid Baltimore time-out of losing to the Ravens. The Jets hung in for awhile, as did even Miami. The Giants let by double-digits late. And in the playoffs, both Jacksonville and San Diego hung in for 3 1/2 quarters, San Diego with their best three offensive weapons either out or seriously compromised.

Bottom line: in their last seven games, vs. the spread, the Pats are 0-7. This fact has to be discounted a bit, as the books in Vegas always add a "Cowboy Tax" (or "Irish Tax" or "Trojan Tax" or "Bear Tax") on the chic team of the moment, especially when said team has a certain history of success. But the truth is that the Pats have had to struggle for every win (or in the case of Miami, every win-that-should-have-been-a-stomp) since the 15th of November. Look it up: over two months.

However, the one constant in these seven games has been the wind--and mostly, the cold. They played Philly, Bal'mer and San Diego in outright wind storms. Giants Stadium in December and January is a wind tunnel. And things were hardly better in Foxborough against the other teams. In each situation, Randy Moss was effectively neutralized, Brady's passes fluttered and flew, and the Patriots pass-first offense was reduced to underneath bullets to Welker and Stallworth, plus out patterns to Gaffney.

What saved the Pats was--as Ted Cotrell, the Chargers' DC, said earlier in the week--the ability of the Pats' offense to play seven different types of football. With the Pats' biggest weapon, the bomb to Moss, as effectively neutralized as LaDanian Tomlinson's running game, with a superb and opportunistic Chargers secondary goading Brady into more interceptions this week (three) than he had incompletions last week (two), the Pats switched to grind-it-out, playing two and three tight ends, pounding Maroney between the tackles, and throwing screens and short-short-short outs, including two crucial first-down catches by Kevin Faulk, the game was effectively over by the seven-minute mark of the fourth quarter.

Now, looking forward two weeks, one has to consider all of the previous paragraph, plus the fact that the Giants' defense isn't as good as the Chargers', plus the re-match may favor Belichick over Coughlin--add all that up, and then add that the Super Bowl will likely be played indoors, in 71-degree weather, and no wind whatsoever. What you are left with are the Pats of the last two months plus a Randy Moss and downfield passing game that becomes a factor all over again.

Anyway, what I think as I go to bed.

Championship Sunday, Part 2

I almost never watch halftime, but I'm glad (for all the wrong reasons) that I watched today.

First, as Bill Simmons had harped on over and over, with any studio analyst past the fourth, the laws of diminishing returns starts to kick in. The situation has gotten so bad that on certain shows (most conscpicuously, "Football Night in America") that analysts are now breaking off in smaller bunches, like freshman comp students doing group work in preparation for a class presentation.

Second, what the use of more analysts if all that happens is the stupidity is multiplied? The consensus at the CBS table (Cowher, Sharpe, and Marino) was that Rivers either had to sit now or had to sit the next time he made a mistake. Boomer, who almost fell out of his chair, could only come up with: Umm, what?

The third was Dan Marino's cell phone, which erupted not once but three times. My own theory is that, after the first time, one or two other persons who know his number started calling, to see if they could get Marino yelled at--or perhaps stared down by an apoplectic producer the same way Marino used to glare at receivers who had dared drop one of his passes.

Second half:

Good return by Maroney. The theme of the last few games has been that Welker gets right what Brady-to-Moss can't accomplish.

Brady sacked, followed by . . .

Third and long . . . interception.

Rivers leads the Chargers down inside the ten. Another stop: Seau lays out Turner. Keading. 14-12, Pats.

Brady (well, Maroney) leads the Patriots smartly down the field and . . . . ugh . . . intercepted in the end zone.

Turner with the first down. Pats switch from bend-but-don't-break to pressure. Rivers, two incompletetions. Punt.

Brady to Heath Evans, first down.

End of third quarter.

Student Maroney right, student Maroney left: first and goal. TD pass to Welker.

Pats 21, Bolts 12.

San Diego, first down.

A few plays later, 3rd and 10 at the thirty--Rivers complete for the first.

Seymour and Rivers into it; Seymour gives Rivers an elbow shiver, and Rivers (clearly a graduate of the Dennis Rodman School of Acting) flails on the ground as if shot.

Fourth-and-10. Nine minutes to go, two scores down. Will the Chargers go for it? No. Punt.

Now, following a Brady sack, third-and-11. Crucial pass to Faulk, who rolls to the yellow stripe. First down.

A few plays later, Brady throw behind Faulk, who hauls it in. First down.

Almost there.

Maroney, Maroney . . . two-minute warning.

Maroney for the first down. This should do it.

Kneel, kneel . . . Ladies and Gentlemen, your 2007 AFC Champions.

Championship Sunday, Part 1

The start of Championship Sunday, aka The Greatest Sports Day of the Year.

First up, Pats v Bolts, and I'm where I've been every week (save the second Dolphins game): sick to my stomach.

So, okay.

Update: 0-0, first quarter. So far:

1. The high winds have eliminated any downfield passing.
2. The San Diego defense is controlling the line; I think the Pats have run for negative yardage thus far.
4. Tom Brady has more incompletions (three) than all of last week.
5. Phil Simms, a usually smart guy, is first out of the gate with the idiocy of the day: "All week long, the San Diego Chargers have been told they don't have a chance . . ." Oh? By whom? No, really, who said such a thing?

Brady interception. A weird silence settles over Gillette.

Third and goal . . . Rivers' pass . . . caught out of bounds. 3-0 Bolts.

Call it a moral victory for the Pats.

The point of the Ford Liberty commercial seems to be this: buy a Ford SUV, and a horde of woodland animals will enter through the sky roof to sing Neil Diamond songs. Works for me.

That McDonald's commercial, the one starring the spoiled little brat who teaches his family to release their inner black . . .

Moss on a reverse. 14 yards, looking like Kareem leading a Showtime fast break.

Two good passes to Faulk, and the end of the first. Now, on behalf of the Patriots, the timber wolf will sing Bob Segers' "Against the Wind."

Update: Three plays, Maroney touchdown.

Bolts' ball . . . completion to Vincent Jackson, who only gets one foot in. Didn't anyone see this? Won't anyone say anything?

First and goal at the nine: Turner for a yard.
Second and goal: Rivers flushed out, throws to Gates, knocked down by Bru (Bruuuu!, or as the University of Arizona-hating Desert Rose refers to this former Wildcat, Fat Teddy Bruschi.)
Time out.
Third and goal: complete in the flat to Chambers, who is undercut by Harrison seven yards from the end zone.
Kaeding field goal. 7-6 Pats.

Third-and-short, pass to Moss batted down. Hanson punt, downed inside the five.

Third-and-short, Rivers complete to Sproles.

With Mike Vrabel wrapped around his ankle like a terrier, Rivers throws an off-balance flutter that Asante Samuel simply snatches from Chris Chambers' grasp. Two plays later, Brady TD to Gaffney. 14-6.

Three minutes to go, Rivers throws an interception to Ellis Hobbs as if playing catch with his brother in the backyard.

Two-minute warning.

Third-and-two. Brady over-muscles a ball to an open Welker. Punt.

Sproles runs for 25 yards, ball comes out. Ruled down. Review.

Verdict: not even close to a fumble. The upshot is a free timeout for San Diego. (Would it have been possible for New England to decline the review? A green hanky, perhaps?)

13 seconds to go. Rivers overthrows; Kaeding out for the field goal attempt. Time out, Patriots.

Jim Nantz: "Belichick's trying to ice the kicker."
Astro-Girl: "Ice him? Belichick's gonna throw ice on him?"
Me: "No."
Astro-Girl: "Well, I wouldn't put it past him."

Kick is just good. 14-9, Pats.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

McCain wins South Carolina.

And the race--really--is down to two people, him and Romney.

South Carolina: McCain?

On the heels of Mitt in Nevada, McCain leads in the exit polls by something like six percent.

Update: With fifteen percent in, it's down to four, 34-30.

So:

If this holds, and if either McCain or Romney win Florida, we are down to a two-man race.

Suddenly, matters glisten with possibility.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Atonement

In a previous life, I'm someone's perpetual guest at an English country house between the wars, a fantasy I've nursed over the last decade-and-a-half, starting with Brideshead Revisited (first the book, then the mini-series, then the book-on-tape, then finally the mini-series on DVD); and straight through to The Remains of the Day, Howard's End, Gosford Park, and the writings of P.G. Wodehouse.

"Things were much better upstairs than downstairs," Roger Ebert usually writes when another Arcadian movie opens. True enough: but things seemed quite good for the tuxedoed Wilcoxes and Stevenses shimmering through the mansions with an air of command. (Below the rank of under-butler--perhaps not so great.) I've probably read Brideshead a half-dozen times (once, in part, on New Year's Eve, and when I returned to the book six months later, I saw the spare cigar ash between the pages); I've listened to it on tape at least as many times, and I knew Astro-Girl was the one for me when she asked to eshew the traditional Wedding March in favor of what Grace had walked to when she married Leo in "Will and Grace." The tune? "Theme from Brideshead Revisited." I became so familiar with the customs of between-war English country living that I imagined I could have slipped inconspiciously into someone's Great Hall and fallen right in: languor from breakfast until tea, grog tray until seven, cocktails in the library, dinner at right, followed by the women retiring to the library while the men enjoy cigars and port in the dining room. Heaven can wait.

(And this only applies to fiction. The habits of the wilderness-era Churchill at Chartwell are something else I've committed to memory: from six a.m. breakfast brought to him by his valet to the manic late-night composition of his books and speeches.)

So it was hard, during the first hour anyway, to view a movie like Atonement without something approaching inter-generational jealousy, so fixated was I with the interior design, the clothes, the position of the chaise lounges by the pool, the--best of all--strange privacy such a large house and grounds would allow (the limiations of which privacy produce the two gut-wrenching moments in the film's first hour).

But, separating my own prejudices from the film itself, the first hour of Atonement left me spellbound, which response was so much bound up in one recurring image: the face of Saoirse Ronan, as 13 year-old Briony, whose stare out her second-floor window, then into the library, then into the darkness, will remain the enduring motif of this film long after people have forgotten the specifics of why exactly Keira Knightly jumped into the pond, or what exactly the twins were up to. What did Matthew Broderick sing to Uma Thurman in The Producers? "That face, that face . . ."

Saorise's Ronan's face--indicative of what Briony sees, and how she reacts to it-- is the story of the movie's first hour.

Which brings me to the second hour.

Was I alone in thinking, What the hell is going on here? I could give myself over to Robbie's (actor James McAvoy's) desperation in the hopeless first English assault in France, the one that ended in near-catastrophy in Dunkirk, before the evacuation that has never, in my mind, been given its due on film (even this one). I could understand Robbie's pain at seeing Cecilia after 3 1/2 years, and the hopelessness of the Allied defense against the first surge of the Third Reich, and the trying circumstances of volunteer nurses in dealing with the horrors of the battlefield, but damnit . . . where is this all going?

The second hour of the film has--what?--five flashbacks, two flashforwards, and (apologies to Chevy Chase's Funny Farm) one flash-sideways. And I don't know if I was alone in thinking: Okay, this is compelling, and this is compelling, and this is compelling . . . but where the hell are we going?

One other thing. Romola Garni, God love her, does not carry the mail as the 18 year-old Briony. The reason here is her face, which lacks the intensity and--let's face it--the beauty of Ronan's. The fact that Darni doesn't look at all like Ronan (four years can be a long time to a girl, but not long enough to grow a cleft chin) is the least of it. Part of the heartbreaking quality of young Briony is the sense that she will, at the age of majority, be a stunner; that Cecilia will win Robbie merely by the accident of earlier birth, like an older son inheriting the family manse. This is a promise that Ronan doesn't deliver. Part of the tension in the film's second half is the 15-20 minutes we spend waiting to see how Briony turned out; and when she is finally revealed, with the blocking equivalent of a drum roll, the reaction is . . . Oh, you. I was reminded of Ally Sheedy at the end of The Breakfast Club, who was supposed to be revealed as a secret beauty at the end, but who instead received (courtesy of Molly Ringwald) as having her face washed of its personality. This hurt.

And then . . . and then, the last five minutes did the impossible, and made the entire previous hour not only explicable, but wrenching. All is forgiven.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

NFL Final Four Set

Surprise of the season: San Diego--without Antonio Gates, without LDT or Phil Rivers for much of the second half, and (most impressively) with Norv Turner as their head coach--defeated the Colts 28-24 to advance to the AFC Championship in Foxborough.

Meanwhile . . . thirty-one seconds left. Giants over Dallas by four.

Update: Wow. I'm almost glad school starts tomorrow; I'm about to save myself from a week of listening to the entire state of Texas (including certain quarters of Houston) rag on Tony Romo. He may not have had a choice, but Giants cornerback McQuarters would have had to duck in the end zone to have that pass miss him.

Pats v. Bolts; Giants v. Packers.

Life with Astro-Girl

On our TV screen, this graphic, courtesy of "Sportscenter":

"Gates to have toe tested at the game."

Astrogirl: "They're testing people's toes at the gates? Hasn't this 9/11 thing gone too far?"

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Patriots 31, Jaguars 20

Quick thoughts:

*See how long it goes, but the Pats' are starting to resemble the 98-99 Yankees, in that they're starting to win close games the same way. Those Yanks had strong enough starting pitching to keep them in most games, timely hitting from the fifth inning on, and a suffocating bullpen anchored by Rivera. The Pats have Brady, who keeps the them close enough even when the opposition is scoring early; a smart and opportunistic (if aging) defense that forces the other team to grind everything out; and a knack on both sides of the ball for that one killer, fourth-quarter play. Brady to Watson (the seocnd time) was one dagger; Harrison's interception was, on defense, like the knock-out blow you keep expecting that finally comes. New England's D came within a few inches intercepting Garrard earlier; when Harrison hauled one in, it had the smack of the inevitable.

*Much was made, before and during the game, of the Jaguars' "ball control," their so-called ability to keep the Pats' offense off the field and mile the clock. Be careful of your strategy! The Jags did keep Brady on the sidelines (for awhile, it seemed as though the Pats would be the very first team in NFL history to lose without either turning the ball over or punting once--think about it), but in the end this was more a matter of necessity than strategy. It was clear early on that the Pats' would allow the Jags all sorts of underneath stuff, even on third down, in order to prevent anything deep. (It is telling that Garrard's one long completion came on fourth down, and on a broken play, when a Jags receiver seemed to appear trailing a puff of smoke behind him.) Once the Patriots went ahead by 11, the Jags' grind-it-out strategy was not only obsolete, it was counterproductive. No one, with the possible exception of Bill Parcells, understands the nuances of the clock as well as Bill Belichick, and when the fourth quarter went below ten minutes Belickick must have realized the game was all but over. It is one thing to milk the clock when you want to; yet another when you have no other choice. With Brady near-flawless, could the Jags drive the length of the field twice? Unlikely--and with the Pats (as they were against Eli last week) suddenly comfortable blitzing, impossible.

*That said, this Jags team is a comer. Consider the poor Houston Texans. As of 4 pm ET last Sunday, five teams remained in the playoffs. Three were from the AFC South: Indy, Jacksonville, Tennessee. Furthermore, injuries aside, the Texans will now have two games apiece, every season, vs. Peyton Manning, Vince Young, and David Garrard. What will count as in-division success? 3-3? 2-4?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

How I Spent My Christmas Vacation

Exhausted.

The number one rule of blogging is, "Blog for yourself first." The number one rule of writing is always, "Never bore yourself." Keeping both of these maxims in mind, when what I was writing became too much of a task, too much like homework, I simply stopped and moved on to the next thing, or laid everything aside until something interesting happened, and then started writing again.

That said, I was--still am--fired up for this Presidential campaign. Politics for the sake of politics is something that grabbed ahold of me when I was seven, wearing my "Nixon Now" button to school on election day, which button I won for being a "good listener" when some seventy-ish woman came by our class a ffew days before the Nixon-McGovern tilt armed with oil prints she unveiled, one at a time, to show us first the Pilgrims, then the Revolutionary War and the Declaration of Independence. (It occurred to me then--and does now--that she rather skipped over the intervening 150 years, merely telling us that "As time went on, soon they (the Pilgrims, I guessed) gave way to their children and grandchildren." Any explanation in a storm.) At the conclusion of her talk, she said she'd brought some buttons, one for each student the teacher identified as "good listeners." I had come armed to this talk with some vague notion of the Revolutionary War and Thanksgiving (first grade had been in the suburbs of Boston, where one invariably choked on William Bradford and Miles Standish every November), but had--I suppose--sat spellbound for the entire hour. Still, it was with some surprise that Mrs. Chapman singled me out in front of the rest: "I think Joseph McDade was a good listener." Ordinarily, I would take this approbation as a badge of dishonor--my true aspiration was to be the class cut-up, a role I was to play to much acclaim in later years--but, c'mon: Nixon Now!

This past week, I was with much anticipation I awaited Iowa, then New Hampshire, thinking I'd type all night, at least to have my own record of the first election since 1928 in which neither a sitting President nor Vice-President is running. I planned Hillary skin-crawl moments (the manic smile, the cackle). I planned John Edwards drinking games (one shot for "mill," one for "Americas," plural). I wanted to bathe in the MSM's effort to prop up Mike Huckabee as the most likely GOPer to fall to Obama in November. I wanted, I wanted . . . .

Then reality intervened:

1) Santa Semester. One three-hour class in the morning, another at night. And how was your vacation? Short but lucrative.

2) The marathon. As in Houston, January 13, training for, me. With a huge assist from a sister-in-law. Problem is: once you train past ten miles, your weekly One Long Run becomes something requiring three days advance warning, in bed by ten . . . jump your distance, at intervals, to 14, 16, 18, then 20 miles, and, really, three days for every week are spoken for. The day before you run you eat, rest, and eat some more, and then sleep early. On run day you run. The day after you run you feel like crap, and recover. The day after that you catch up with your life. Blah blah.

3) The sharp shooting pain in my side that cropped up five days before the marathon (the complex term I'm searching for is "yesterday"), which pain may be a pull or a strain but certainly disrupted my life. Too much training? A bad spill? Muscles ribbing from my rib cage? Emily Dickinson wrote about pain knowing no universe but itself; in such a climate my books, my papers, my care about politics and sports were all set aside against the groaning effort necessary to hoist myself to a sitting position, and thence to the bathroom. Postpone the race? (My participation, until next year.) We shall see.

So, in the face of exhaustion, the world parades by, uncommented by me, for me. USC wins Rose Bowl! Steelers eliminated! Celtics 29-3! Roger Clemens . . . oh, I'm too tired. Goose Gossage enters Hall (aside from that Rose Bowl, the most gratifying moment of the past two weeks)! Cinco Paul--in a creative, strike-inspired outburst--writes Bubble Boy: The Musical!

Nine thousand movies open!

And Obama, Hill, Huck, Mitt, Mac, Fred and the Silky Pony make the first of the year so gratifying!


Oh, I'm going to bed.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Hillary Lives!

Looks like she's going to eak out in New Hampshire.

Then she'll win in Michigan.

Obama wins in South Carolina.

Hillary in Florida.

Then . . . Superduper Tuesday.

Meanwhile, McCain takes NH for the GOP, and I haven't the slightest idea.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

More Hillary

On the eve of Iowa, I come down (per the Dems) with the last few pieces I read this evening: namely, that 1) Obama is in for a big win in New Hampshire, maybe double, digits, but b) Hillary's chances are no worse than, say, 60-40 against.

Much of this has to do with January--really, the only three weeks in the primary season that anyone can play catch up. Hillary--whose campaign is reeling, but who has yet to draw a stupid breath--realized that going negative against Obama in the space between Iowa and New Hampshire would have no effect, or worse, would backfire.

So tomorrow, Hillary loses. And then the fun starts--as in fun that will make "Muslim" and "drug dealer" look like child's play.

If Hillary is alive on February 5th, she has a real chance, and Obama will be in trouble.

Meanwhile, we have tomorrow--one of my favorite nights of any four years--and we have my latest pleasure in life, the Hillary Deathwatch, the best sample of which was provided by Howie Carr:


Did you see the people standing behind Hillary in Iowa on Thursday night during her concession speech?

Wesley Clark, Madeleine Albright, Terry McAuliffe - it looked like a new exhibit at Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum. The Clinton theme song has gone from “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow” to “Yesterday.”

There is nothing more out than last season’s fad. Wait 20 years, everything comes back. Just don’t try to wear it to the cotillion this year. But that’s exactly what Hillary has been doing, and Friday night she was booed when she told the 3,000 Democrat hacks in Milford, N.H., that she would always be working for “change for you.”

Keep using that line, Hillary, and you will be working for change. Spare change.

If they only had more time, the Clintons could dig up dirt, some real mud, to throw at Obama. But this yearthey’re reduced to using ham-handed fools like Billy Shaheen and Bob Kerrey to peddle half-baked lies about Muslims and cocaine dealing. And now the clock works against them. It was the Clintons who wanted to front-load everything, to hold those early caucuses in Nevada and then get all the primaries over with. There’s an old saying: Be careful what you wish for.


That's how things stand now.

Wednesday, maybe not.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

More Iowa

To recapitulate:

What I'm looking forward to--completely looking forward to, just for fun's sake--is how the Clintons play this the next few weeks.

If the ant-Obama rhetoric/ads don't start coming every hour, on the hour, I'll be stunned.

A cynic might contrast the tone of Obama's speech with the rogue's gallery set up behind Hillary: Wes Clark, Madeline Albright, Bob "Hussein" Kerrey, and the Red-Faced Scoundrel himself, the bunch of them resemblng the police line-up in "The Usual Suspects."

A CYNIC might make the above contrast, but not me. (See? Look for a dozen verbal Clinton loop-de-loops like the above between now and, oh, the end of February, by which time they will be either unecessary or useless.)

Astro-Girl is a solid McCain supporter (I'm registered GOP), but midway through Obama's speech she asked, "You know who he reminds me of?"

I asked, "Jesse Jackson?"

"No."

Me (lightbulb on): "Martin Luther King."

"Bingo."

Iowa

It was over right after it started, and so all hope of live-blogging sort of went out the window.

To go down the winners and losers:

WINNERS:

1. Barack Obama. Of course.

In one of my twenty favorite movies ever, Miller's Crossing, Gabriel Byrne, playing a kind of Irish consiglerie to Albert Finney's combination of Boss Tweed and a Hibernian Al Capone, says this to his boss:

The only reason you run this town is that people think you run it. If they stop thinkin' it, you stop runnin' it.

This quote, in a nutshell, has been the coal in Hillary Clinton's engine for going on two years: her inevitability. She was going to win because everyone assumed she would win; any doubts, any other candidates, were buried under leads that stretched into the 20s and 30s.

Edwards, with that haircut and craptacular mansion, was a living joke. Biden had the taint of being humiliated by Bush over Roberts and Alito. Obama . . . well, when the Obama boomlet was one of the few bright spots for the Dems in 2004, I remember thinking that maybe the Dems should let Obama find the Men's room in the Russell Building before anointing him the savior of the party.

Well, three years later, it appears Obama has found the loo, and a whole lot more.

2. Mike Huckabee. Now comes the hard part. The difference between Huckabee and Obama is that Huck wins with all the demographics going his way (rural Evangelicals), and Obama wins with all his demos against him (2% black population, no dense urban population, plus Iowa is right-to-work albeit the most unionized of such a state). But, in the words of the old football coach Darryl Rogers, W's are W's and L's are L's. Huck has probably bought himself enough time (and potentially enough money) to last the month, or at least until the campaign turns south and the evangelical vote comes back into play. South Carolina, anyone?

3. John McCain Did just well enough to bolster himself in New Hampshire. But he's gotta win in New Hampshire.

4. The Democrats. Visibly more vocal, more enthused, more present than the GOP. A trend? Maybe.

LOSERS:

1. John Edwards. Worse night than Romney's only because money is a concern, and because Romney may yet recover in New Hampshire. Edwards has essentially been living in Iowa for a year; this was the political equivalent of all-in, and Obama caught two runners. In a way that several candidates who did not as well as he:

2. Mitt Romney. Better night than Edwards' only because of the above. In five days, he could be toast.

3. Hillary Clinton.


We saw the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas, which began with Hillary grasping for an answer regarding driver's licenses for illegan aliens and ended with her apparatchik, William Shaheen, blowing himself straight out of a job (and hurting his boss in the process) by attempting a misdirection straight out of the Clinton playbook.

What is fascinating about Hillary's present bad patch (Bill appeared on Charlie Rose a few weeks ago to claim of course Hillary never expected to win in Iowa), is that the same Clinton strategems that worked so well for her husband are being replayed as a kind of crappy, straight-to-DVD sequel in which nothing works as before. Consider these strategems:

1. Demonize whenever you can. Last time, the Clintons' all-out assault on Newt Gingrich worked so well that a Newsweek cover dubbed him "The Gingrich Who Stole Christmas"--a full three weeks before Gingrich even took office. The Monica Lewinsky scandal brought about not one resignation but two: two Republicans Speakers that is, Gingrich and Robert Livingstone, after the first was successfully portrayed as a predatory obsessive leader of Hillary's Vast Right Wing Conspiracy and the second as a hypocrite for having cheated on his wife.

This time? Obama supporter (and former Clinton friend) David Geffen called Hillary a liar--truthfully, and almost as an aside. It would have been forgotten as the mouthings of one more Hollywood blowhard had the Clintons not turned it into a four-day story by their insistence that Obama 1) denounce Geffen and 2) return the money Geffen helped raise. Clinton apparatchik Howard Wolfson referred to Geffen--absurdly and repeatedly--as Obama's "finance chairman," a total of five times on Chris Matthews alone until Matthews finally called him on it. Obama's camp wisely ignored Wolfson's demands for this and that, and most people (not one in a thousand of whom could pick David Geffen out of a police line-up) were left with the memory of Hillary being tagged a liar.

2. Send someone else to slime someone and arm him with a plausible reason. If Hillary ends up losing the nomination (and right now, I think she stands at about 45 percent), two moments may stand out: her mishandling of the driver's license question and her New Hampshire campaign chair Bill Shaheen's ten-thumbed attempt to dredge up Obama's drug use and--again absurdly, unless they have the goods--raise the spectre of Obama's drug-dealing.

The reasoning for Sheehan's smear--if we don't do it, the evil GOP will, after the nomination--is both familiar and self-revealing. Used to work, doesn't now.

NEITHER UP NOR DOWN:

1. Thompson and Rudy. Nothing changes. Thompson is as faded as he was a month ago; Rudy still pins all on Florida. Neither is going to win, so nothing changes.

2. The other Dems. Combined vote count in Iowa: 2 percent. Nuff said.