West Wing The End of the Clinton Era

The former first lady bet everything -- and lost. Barring some kind of miracle, Barack Obama will become the Democratic Party's nominee for president. A dramatic finale on Tuesday night brought an end to the Clinton era.

By Gabor Steingart

Hillary Clinton and family: The race is over for the former first lady.

Hillary Clinton and family: The race is over for the former first lady.

In the past few years, I have met two outstanding American women. One of them is named Hillary Clinton.

We had arranged to meet in a small group for dinner at the upscale Berlin restaurant Borchardt. The New York senator had not yet revealed that she would be a future presidential candidate. She spoke with devotion about the details of her health care policy and showed keen interest in the details of the European welfare state systems.

She absorbed all the awkward terminology that such a debate entails: employers' contributions, non-wage labor costs, co-payments. She couldn't get enough of them. I know many politicians, but not many who have this thirst for detail.

The mood of the evening was also interesting. Hillary Clinton spoke quietly, quieter anyway than one would expect from a former first lady and current senator. At no point did she try to dominate the four-strong group around the table. She was ladylike, confident, reflective -- and she was also a bit of a snob, if the truth be told.

The waiter in any case had his hands full. Everything that was in any way fattening had to disappear from the soup that she had chosen as a starter. In the end, she got little more than a bowl of warm water.

The other extraordinary American woman I met is also called Hillary Clinton. I have followed her across half of America during this election campaign. But the only thing the campaigning Clinton seemed to have in common with the woman with whom I shared a table at Borchardt was her name.

Hillary Clinton II was down to earth and hard as nails. She laughed loudly and could sometimes be mean. She drank beer, not wine and water. In the primaries for the Democratic nomination, she never let up attacking her rival Barack Obama.

She questioned his Christianity, his patriotism, his experience, his judgement and his personal integrity. She labelled him "unrealistic." She made it clear to the voters: I am tough and he is weak. I am real and he is the creation of a speechwriter.

The longer the campaign went on, the more these two Hillarys diverged from one another. One was a great lady, the other nothing less than a great fighter. She pulled out all the stops, resorting to everything, including self denial.

Voters wanted more emotion, so Hillary II produced tears in her eyes. Voters desired a candidate who would take on the Wall Street kingpins -- Hillary II came to the fore. With high gas prices on the minds of voters, Hillary II reached for the gas pump and promised, in the era of global warming, a gas tax holiday -- a suspension of the tax on gasoline during peak vacation time.

As a presidential candidate, Clinton wasn't always elegant, but she was often impressive. She cast an uncompromising spotlight on her rival's weaknesses. Time may very well show that she was right in many respects.

But the majority of Democratic voters didn't flock to her on Tuesday. Her combative nature impressed many, but it scared away at least as many others.

With her defeat in North Carolina and a narrow lead in Indiana, the race is over for Clinton. Barring a miracle, Barack Obama will become the Democratic Party's nominee. His lead may be narrow, but it's a gap that can no longer be closed.

Hillary Clinton II has come a long way. Now it's time for her to return to her old self.

To reach the author and join the discussion, please visit GaborSteingart.com.

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