Hillary Agonistes

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 13, 2008; 8:49 AM

When the media, in their infinite wisdom, decide that a race is over, the usual course is to ignore the losing candidate until the person fades from public view.

Heard a lot about Fred Thompson lately? Mike Huckabee? Rudy Giuliani? Bill Richardson? Joe Biden? Chris Dodd?

But while journalists are now treating Barack Obama as the nominee-in-waiting--to the point that no one seems to care that he's likely to get creamed in today's West Virginia primary--the Hillary Clinton story is still very much with us.

The media, it seems, just can't let go.

There's the short-term tactical story: Why hasn't she dropped out yet? Doesn't she watch television or read the papers? The news business has decided she's lost. Why prolong the agony?

But more important, I believe, is the psychodrama story: Is Hillary a sore loser? Detached from reality? Determined to weaken Obama so he'll lose and she can run in 2012? The stories get increasingly sharp-edged, increasingly speculative, as we put the senator from New York on the couch.

And, of course, there are the legacy pieces: How did the Clintons lose control of the Democratic Party? How did she fumble away the nomination? How badly did Bill Clinton hurt her? Has their time passed?

Journalists have been in a co-dependent relationship for nearly two decades with the Clintons, who provided endlessly juicy copy, from their capture of the White House to nearly losing it, from Whitewater to Gennifer to Paula to Monica, from the last-minute pardons to Hillary's Senate bid, to the impenetrable mystery of their marriage.

So while there's plenty of media carping about Hillary's refusal to exit the stage, there are plenty of journalists who want to keep her there.

Here's a new theory on the couple's tenacity, courtesy of the New Republic's Michael Crowley:

"The Clintons find themselves victimized and under siege. The presidency is being stolen from them. The press is out to get them. They deride elites and champion the masses. They live in a constant state of emergency. But they will endure any humiliation, ride out any crisis, fight on even when fighting seems hopeless.

"That might sound like a fair summary of how Bill and Hillary Clinton have viewed the past five months. But it also happens to describe what, until now, was the greatest ordeal of the Clintons' almost comically turbulent political careers: impeachment. That baroque saga hardened the Clintonian worldview about politics and helps to explain their approach to this brutal campaign season. The Clintons have been here before, you see. They're being impeached all over again . . .

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