Last night's Texas Cage Match was initially a haymaker-free affair: cagey jousting about minor distinctions between similar policies. Then Clinton opened up with her Xerox comment ("You know, lifting whole passages from someone else's speeches is not change you can believe in, it's change you can Xerox") -- and earned lusty boos for overreaching. Obama replied that his deal to trade lines with Deval Patrick trumped those silly plagiarism charges and won the round. Presuming that no broader pattern emerges, he elegantly left Clinton on the mat. As I've noted before, I wish he would have added a line about the correctness of citing his friend, giving credit where credit is due, but I was nonetheless impressed with Obama's coolness under the spotlights.
About five minutes before the final applause, Obama had this debate wrapped up. Then Clinton launched into a wrap-up that connected her plight to those of returning veterans gravely wounded by the war, simultaneously pointing out the pettiness of Democrat bouts when compared to their struggles. Sure it was shameless, I thought, that she lifted the "we'll be OK" line from John Edwards, especially given her previous accusations of plagiarism against her opponent. But she conveyed no small degree of class with the rightness of her words.
And then there was the handshake. For hours the punditocracy parsed that moment. Was Clinton demonstrating command of the debate by subtly maneuvering Obama to stretch out his hand? Was she obliquely signaling her acquiescence that she'd been sidelined by history's march? Was she, as New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd claimed, "furious that the Chicago kid got in the picture"? What did she mean? Apparently in an after-debate speech, Clinton made it clear that she has no intention of standing aside for Obama's coronation. Drawing from her Inner Flick, she emphasized that she'd worked too hard to back away now. So now we wait for Texas and Ohio to decide. And, of course, we wait for this Tuesday's return to the ring.
Follow Up: Newsweek's Jonathan Alter has posted a fine analysis of why Hillary Clinton should get out now - and why she probably won't.