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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 January 2008, 22:36 GMT
Washington diary: Hillary's tears
By Matt Frei
BBC News, Washington

Hillary Clinton after her 'emotional' moment
Hillary Clinton appeared to become emotional while campaigning

America is fighting two or three wars, the economy is tanking and the planet is simmering, but what caused the biggest political surprise in a season of surprises may have been nothing more than a few tears and the quivering lip of a woman who has always been accused of having had an emotional bypass.

On Monday Hillary Clinton teared up in despair. On Tuesday she had reason to cry with euphoria. The televised secretion may have changed the election.

When the senator from New York felt her own pain, the reaction was almost as if life had been discovered on Mars.

Genuine astonishment was mingled with delight and bafflement.

The blogosphere hummed with questions.

Were the tears genuine? Were they war-gamed on a focus group, huddled in a dark cellar? Did Bill reduce her to them? (This time on demand perhaps). Did Hillary genuinely crack under the strain?

Or was she just pulling that old number that we men envy so much. Cry and you will get your way.

One thing almost everyone agreed on - including the crier herself - was that she had every reason to bawl.

Panic and exhaustion

She was exhausted, and as the New York Post screamed on Monday's front page over a picture of a screaming Hillary: PANIC! She was perceived to be losing the fight of her life.

And this was not just the mean-spirited opinion of journalists who had been dancing on her political grave since Des Moines.

This was the realisation in the Clinton camp, where the back-biting and sniping had started, where top aides were preparing to take the bullet, and where they had braced themselves for a concession speech bouncing off empty chairs.

Barack Obama after results
Change this time seems to have worked against him

The mute Chelsea looked as if she had eaten a sack of lemons, and even the usually silver-tongued Bill was reduced to pointing a shaking finger at the media, the voters and the new high priest of hope, Barack Obama.

"Give me a break," he thundered about Obama's movement. "This is the biggest fairytale I have ever seen."

The man from Hope had turned against hope. Strange.

When hard women cry, it is even more shocking than when men crack up.

Remember the one single tear of the Iron Lady, suspended under a tired right eye as Margaret Thatcher was driven away from 10 Downing Street for the last time after her own party had stabbed her in the back?

I am sure that Monday's tears will come to vex Hillary. Campaigns adore and chastise emotion.

Some strategist somewhere is already figuring out whether, where, and when tears are appropriate for a female commander-in-chief.

Some will say tears will not defang Iran. Others will point out that tears might melt Kim Jong-il, who, let's face it, looks like he needs a good cry himself.

But what we all missed in the post-lachrymose post-mortem was that Hillary's tears, though glistening with a hint of self-pity, were OUR tears.

Or rather, the tears of a sufficient number of women voters who flocked to the polls in New Hampshire and bailed out their sister.

Clarion call

In Iowa the plurality of women voted for Obama. In New Hampshire they came out for Hillary.

In Iowa they fell in love. In New Hampshire they fell in line. Perhaps it comes down to basic solidarity.

As Michelle, a temp secretary standing outside a polling booth in Concord put it to me: "They pushed her too far. She needs our help!"

The clarion call heard by women saved Hillary from defeat. But this goes beyond sisterly solidarity.

As none other than Barack Obama keeps saying on the campaign trail, and as Hillary intoned in her victory speech on Tuesday: "It's all about YOU!"

On the couch

This election is a referendum on the American soul. What kind of country does America want to be?

Uncle Sam is no longer comfortable with being feared. He wants to be loved again. He wants to do the right thing.

Today the entire country is on the psychiatrist's couch and yes, we are all candidates.

It IS about us. We have all been to night classes in empathy. Independents, Democrats and Republicans.

Mike Huckabee's winning line on the Jay Leno show, when the pundits grumbled that he had deserted the corn of Iowa for the long grass of Hollywood, was: "I look like the guy you work with, not like the guy who lays you off."

It was a dig at millionaire Mitt Romney, of course, but it was also an invitation to share the ordinariness of Huck.

When John McCain addressed his supporters in New Hampshire, the man who survived six years in the Vietnamese prison sarcastically nicknamed the Hanoi Hilton by keeping his mouth shut under torture said: "I just came to New Hampshire to talk to people and listen."

Hillary was right when she quoted Mario Cuomo, the former governor of New York. Campaigns are poetry. Governing is prose.

We have all become poets. The country is one giant book club and we vote for the poetry that suits us best: Barack's Ballads, Huckabee's Haiku, Rudy's Rap or Hillary's heroic monologues. You pick.

Matt Frei is the presenter of BBC World News America, airing at 2300 GMT (1900 ET / 1600 PT) every weekday


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