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Team Obama refers to the Clinton campaign as “Jaws” because “just when things are quiet, they keep t

February 3, 2008
Op-Ed Columnist
There Will Be Blood


Suddenly, everyone was in the mood for love. Would the scream team turn into the dream team?

After Thursday’s Democratic debate, CNN’s Carol Costello said there were “heart palpitations” and “ripples of joy” in the glittery Kodak Theater audience at the idea of a Hillary-Obama or Obama-Hillary ticket, after he was gallant with her and she laughed gaily with him.

How could Hollywood not fall in love with Hollywood’s favorite plot? After lots of sparking and sparring, the couple falls into each other’s arms in the last scene.

The would-be matchmakers didn’t seem to know that in Hollywood, couples who have chemistry on screen often don’t like each other off screen, and ones who are involved off screen often don’t have any chemistry on screen.

And so it is with Barack and Hillary. Thursday night was not the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Just a beautiful, dare we say, fairy tale.

Hillary is done with playing a supporting role to a political natural. And why would Obama want to follow in the frustrated footsteps of Al Gore, who became Bill Clinton’s vice president only to find that the job was already taken by Hillary? Think about being third banana to Billary? There won’t be any Dick Cheney-style coup in Hillary’s White House.

“Can you imagine being in that position?” a member of Team Obama said tartly. “Well, neither can he. It’s just part of their campaign to marginalize him. I think they’re pushing every freaking button they can right now.”

Team Obama refers to the Clinton campaign as “Jaws” because “just when things are quiet, they keep trying to come back and capsize the boat.”

A more accurate snapshot of the frosty Clinton-Obama relationship came on a frosty December day in a scorching encounter that is now known simply as “the tarmac moment.” On Dec. 13, the two senators were preparing to board their private planes, parked next to each other at Reagan National Airport, to go back to Iowa for a debate. Hillary sent word to Obama that she wanted to talk to him. Obama’s aides figured that she wanted to make a pro forma apology for the comments of Billy Shaheen, the Clinton co-chairman in New Hampshire, who had told The Washington Post that Republicans would pounce on Obama’s confessions of cocaine and marijuana use in his late teens. Shaheen would step down the next day, but Camp Obama did not think the slam was a mere slip of the tongue.

In front of her plane, Hillary apologized to her rival about Shaheen. Obama replied that he was concerned at the pattern of insinuations and attacks from her supporters and that a message needed to be sent from the top that sharp attacks were not, as Hillary had put it, “the fun part.” He brought up another recent example: the Clinton volunteer in Iowa who had been asked to leave after forwarding sleazy e-mail falsely claiming that Obama was a Muslim.

Then, according to witnesses from the Obama camp, Hillary got very agitated and was “flapping her arms.” All her simmering grievances spilled out during the 10-minute talk. She was still furious about David Geffen’s searing interview with me the previous February, charging that she and Bill lie with such ease “it’s troubling.” While Geffen’s fund-raiser for Obama spurred the column, Obama knew nothing about the interview until it appeared. Hillary was also angry that Obama had called her “disingenuous,” telling Newsweek that it was a contradiction for her to claim that her tenure as first lady gave her more experience but then refuse to release her first lady papers from Bill’s library, saying she had no control over them.

At some point, an Obama intimate recalled, he “gently put his hand on her arm to chill her out.” The tall senator often leans down to put a friendly hand on the shoulder of his fellow senators — male and female — on the Senate floor, and they seem charmed by the gesture.

But Senator Clinton and her circle were not. They had been surprised and troubled by what they saw as his attempt to grab her arm and hold her in place while they talked, an unpleasant flashback to Rick Lazio getting in her space. As Queen Bee of the Clinton hive, Hillary has created a regal force field that can be breached only with permission, so something that wasn’t even a jostle was perceived as a joust.

The encounter seemed to have steeled them both. Hillary, to knock back the upstart who had unexpectedly gotten in her way, and Obama, who came away feeling that, for all of Hillary’s outer strength, she was afraid of him in some ways, and for all of her supposed poise, she had a more spiky temperament than he had realized.

But on Thursday, when he leaned down to whisper and put his hand on her shoulder, she looked up at him with a glowing smile. They really should have taken home gold statuettes.
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