Bill Clinton's face was red and looked a little puffy. When he tried to smile, his lips pressed closely together, the corners of his mouth pointed downward instead. His daughter Chelsea, thin and fragile-looking, waved to the audience, apparently on the verge of tears.
But Hillary Clinton, beaming and seemingly tough as nails, strode up to the microphone in Indianapolis on Wednesday to tell her supporters how American it is to "never waver in the face of adversity." Coming from Clinton, who has learned to apply this axiom to her own life with Bill and throughout this election campaign, it even sounds believable. Yet this election campaign is slowly but surely turning into a tragedy for her.
At first she was Hillary, confident of victory, the candidate who was destined to win the White House because she belonged there -- or at least that was what her self-confident and assertive demeanor seemed to say. Then she learned how to cry in public and trotted out her human side. But before long, she reverted once again to the role of Hillary the fighter, a woman who can take defeats, laugh them off and keep on going, constantly on the lookout for Barack Obama's mistakes. All she had to do was to attack him, trash him and shower him with dirty tricks. Time magazine, half in admiration and half in contempt, called her a "warrior."
Hillary Clinton has reinvented herself over and over again. Sometimes it helped. But every new defeat took a heavy toll, and soon her slim victories were no longer enough to help her. After her resounding defeat in the North Carolina primary and her less-than-impressive victory in Indiana, it is over now for Hillary. But what happens next?
Clinton continues to insist that she is still moving "full speed ahead to the White House." She rattles off a litany of programs, like her plans to combat high gas prices and fight the rash of foreclosures that have affected so many families throughout the United States. It sounds like a threat when she says: "And now we're moving on to West Virginia, Kentucky and Oregon." NBC reporter Andrea Mitchell, who was on Clinton's flight home from Indianapolis to Washington, reported afterwards: "It was a very subdued flight. I believe they have their own version of reality here, and it is that they did well, a win is a win, they won Indiana."
Perhaps Clinton really does believe that she still has a chance, or perhaps she is merely bluffing to drive up the price of withdrawing from the race. Meanwhile, America is fascinated by the Hillary Clinton drama, as she falters but refuses to give up. She looks pale, but still as immaculate as ever. She beams as if she could imagine nothing more appealing than this long, dirty and crippling primary campaign, which will end for the Democrats on June 3, when the last two primaries are held.
She no longer stands a chance of winning the party's nomination under her own steam. She can only hope that Obama somehow loses his cool or his campaign machine implodes. Apparently, none of her fellow Democrats can prevent Clinton from sticking it out until the party convention in August. That move would defy all reason and advice, especially now that most of the still undecided super-delegates -- senior party officials who are free to cast their votes as they please and can still determine the outcome of the race -- are leaning toward Obama.
The drama wouldn't be as compelling if it were just about Hillary Clinton. But it's also about a powerful political family seeing its empire fall apart. Hillary and Bill Clinton wanted to follow America's other political dynasties, the Kennedys and the Bushs. The Kennedy's allure has been diminished for some time, because the generation that followed the murdered brothers, John Fitzgerald and Robert, was either uninterested in politics or lacked sufficient political talent. The Bushs supplied two presidents, a father and a son. And now America is washing its hands of both the Bushs and the Clintons.
Arrogance was probably the Clintons' greatest enemy. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, an old Clinton friend who defected to Obama's camp, says that they lived under the illusion that the throne was theirs to claim. This probably explains why they didn't take Barack Obama, the 46-year-old son of a Kenyan man and an American woman from Kansas, seriously. They caused him to stumble late in the game.
But now it has become clear that he too can overcome problems like the ones caused by his former pastor and mentor Jeremiah Wright, who in a sermon just last week again repeated his assertion that the government invented "the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color." Wright's assertion that the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 were a completely understandable act of resistance by the Islamic world set off a media firestorm a few weeks ago.
Ironically, individual members of the former Clinton political aristocracy are gradually moving over to Obama's camp. The Clinton empire began to crumble when old friends like Richardson and Robert Reich switched sides and declared their support for Obama. Reich, a professor of political science and the labor secretary in the first Clinton administration, introduced Hillary and Bill to each other at Yale University in the 1970s. Another defector was Anthony Lake, a quiet scholar who was Bill Clinton's first national security advisor and is now part of Obama's team. Hollywood producer David Geffen was also a welcome guest at the Clinton court in the past. When he turned his back on the Clintons, he said that he did it because he was tired of their lies.
It is astonishing that Hillary Clinton underestimated Obama so persistently and for so long. She has known him since his now-famous speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, when John Kerry was anointed the party's nominee in that year's presidential race. At the time, Obama was subordinate to Clinton -- or at least it had seemed that way ever since he first paid his respects to her.
In February 2005, Clinton was the most powerful woman in the Senate and the most prominent Democrat in the country. America was waiting for her to claim the White House. She wanted to do everything the right way, and she took the time to learn what she needed to learn. She was intent on moving into the White House on her own terms, not on her husband's coattails. As far back as February 2005, when Obama had his secretary set up an appointment with Clinton, there was no doubt that her time would come.
She met with him in her large, impressive, canary-yellow office on the fourth floor of the Russell Office Building. Clinton spent an entire hour telling Obama about her humble beginnings in the Senate, when she took a back seat to more senior senators, brought her male counterparts coffee and asked to be admitted to the Senate prayer group. A remarkably humble start for the former First Lady (sometimes referred to as Bill Clinton's "co-president"), a woman who knew many heads of state and prime ministers around the world.
It must have been an amicable conversation. The two senators discovered that they had a lot in common, and they both thought it was amusing that while she was already well-known when she joined the Senate, Obama, as he readily admitted, had merely given a speech -- something that couldn't hold a candle to her fame. Hillary's advice to Obama was to follow her example: be quiet, learn as much as possible, avoid grandstanding and be a workhorse. Obama nodded.
Obama, for his part, said he was troubled by the "maneuvers, chicanery and small-mindedness of politics." During the first meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he wrote the following note to one of his staffers: "Shoot. Me. Now." But should he have contradicted Hillary Clinton back then? She wouldn't have taken him seriously anyway.
No one would have taken him seriously.
A Sore Loser
More than three years later, Clinton is now standing on a stage in the Murat Centre in Indianapolis, confronting yet another disappointment, another shallow victory, one so shallow that it was almost beneath her standards. She won the state's primary with only a 2-percent lead over Obama, far too little to save her candidacy. She needed big, devastating victories, victories she can no longer count on. Today, Hillary Clinton is nothing but a sore loser who steps onto a stage and, like a robot, continues to spit out her rallying cries.
Silence has descended on the Clinton team. Her campaign manager, Terry McAuliffe, seems like a sad clown with a lame joke as he tests the microphone on this evening in Indianapolis: "One, two, three, President Hillary."
America wants a change, and Hillary Clinton has suddenly become a symbol of the status quo. She's promised to bring back the good old 1990s, when the Internet economy was booming, Americans were still making a lot of money in the stock market, the government had a balanced budget and America was still popular in the world. In other words, Hillary promises to bring back Bill Clinton's world -- and Bill along with it. But the majority of Democrats, and Americans in general, also associate the Clintons with other things: politics shaped by a brutal friend-or-foe mentality, White House intern Monica Lewinsky and the return of bad taste.
The Clintons have been in Washington since January 1993. They spent eight years of that time in the White House, and many courted their favor. While at America's most famous address, they liked to surround themselves with the country's rich and famous. They gave balls and invited friends, real and not so real, to spend nights in the Lincoln Bedroom.
They condescended to campaign for people whose names they barely knew, but who then became subjects in the Clinton empire and loyal footmen on the road to regaining power.
When Bill celebrated his 60th birthday in August 2006, the Rolling Stones performed for him at New York's Beacon Theatre. Sponsors paid up to half a million dollars a ticket to be part of the event. The Clintons were the pop stars of American politics: Thanks to book contracts and the generous speaking fees that the former president, resurrected from the ruins of his second term, commands worldwide, they became millionaires in their own right. Under these circumstances, it's no surprise that they believed the circle would close upon their return to the White House -- their White House.
After the first defeats against Obama, the Clintons tried to save their empire. Bill's job consisted almost exclusively in keeping their powerful friends in the Democratic Party happy. He talked to them on the phone and sometimes even paid them a visit. He flew to Santa Fe to see Bill Richardson and watch football -- the Super Bowl -- with him in his home. But all of these efforts were in vain. People like Richardson are now seen as traitors from inside the Clinton camp.
Paradoxically, the Clinton's new friends include some of their former enemies: members of the conservative media. In the 1990s, during the Lewinsky affair, they launched an all-out attack on the Clintons, breaking every taboo, calling Bill a sex offender and Hillary a witch. But just at the moment when Hillary Clinton's defeat seems inevitable, they are suddenly discovering the couple's positive features.
William Kristol, one of America's leading neoconservatives, writes in an opinion piece in the New York Times: "We also see the liberal media failing to give Hillary Clinton the respect she deserves. So, since we conservatives believe in giving credit where credit is due, it falls to us to praise Hillary. The fact is Hillary Clinton has turned out to be an impressive candidate. What a strange shift in a strange election campaign."
When Clinton went on Bill O'Reilly's show on Fox News, she promptly crossed her legs and launched into an attack on Obama. She said that comments made by his pastor, Jeremiah Wright, are offensive to voters. O'Reilly, a declared cynic among conservative right-wing talk show hosts, nodded empathetically and played a tape in which Obama's pastor defended his hate-filled sermons.
There are some indications that Hillary Clinton plans to continue fighting for a while longer. The fate of the primary votes cast in Florida and Michigan are still is still up in the air. The Democratic leadership made it clear from the start that primary results in both states would not be counted, because the state party organizations had violated party rules. Obama was not even on the ballot in Michigan.
If Michigan and Florida votes are counted, that could put 366 delegates up for grabs at the convention in August. But the Clintons' request to have the Florida and Michigan results validated has already been rebuffed once. They will likely launch their second appeal on May 31, when Democratic Party leaders come together for a meeting.
Hillary's battle is bound to continue for at least a little while longer.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan