Battle Tested

One of the characters of mythic proportion here in D.C. is that of the hard old pol: that tough political boss, heavily scarred from many a close-fought election battle. Think Tip O’Neal or Edward Kennedy.

Last night Senator Hillary Clinton showed that she has it. It’s not just a good ol’ boys club. Joshua Marshall points out (“Making Sense of It,” Talking Points Memo, 9 January 2008):

And I do not think that any of Clinton’s critics can say that she won this one by overpowering Obama with money or mobilizing a dominating political machine or by expectations of inevitability and certainly not with the help of a friendly press. However you slice it this was a real victory under pressure. And if she’s the nominee she’ll be a much better one for it.

After last night’s win, everyone should take a long, hard look at Senator Clinton. She’s hard to see because we’ve all been made to see her through the filter of tabloid in this modern world, but after last night, she seems more like something of an other, older tradition. The politicians who make something in this world all end up compromised in some way. There is a proper rule for how and when to hold that against a politician. It makes me think of Auda abu Tayi’s boast in Lawrence of Arabia: “I carry twenty-three great wounds, all got in battle.” Damage or disfigurement is not always a mark of shame.

In the bright light of day people will say that what they want is clarity and principle and happy things like hope for the future and positive vision and big think. But the astute know that what politics really calls for is what Senator Clinton has demonstrated. They call it the greasy pole. To climb it, you have to get a little dirty.