When it goes it goes it goes it really goes… last night’s debate had been spoken of as Hillary Clinton’s last chance. It wasn’t, of course, of itself. She had to win it hands-down, and launch a whole new policy initiative, and drop a safe on Obama’s head to really have a chance. But in the end, it turned out to be she who did the cartoon thing, running furiously in mid-air, long after she’d gone off the cliff.

After another interminable debate about their strikingly similar health-care plans – both favour a process of subsidising private health insurance, rather than any sort of extension of direct provision. Clinton’s criticism of Obama’s proposal is that it would leave up to fifteen million uninsured.

That’s a worst-case scenario, but fair criticism. Yet Clinton’s guarantees on her own scheme seem to demand a fair whack of faith that the process of “mandating” — making it compulsory to have health insurance – will work better than does say compulsory car insurance, etc.

There is also the problem that mandating as such is not only in effect a huge cash transfer to private health insurance, an invitation to an increasingly punitive system that criminalises poverty and/or bad money management, but it also ultimately simply shifts poverty around – people simply go without food or heat to pay for the insurance they will be prosecuted for not having. Neither party is going to stick their neck out for efficient direct provision that might get the average American health care standard up to somewhere in the realm of, say, Latvia.

With the policy so minimally variant, the thing pretty quickly collapsed into pettiness, and much of it was Clinton’s fault. Her initial complaint — that she always got the first, narkiest, questions – may not have been untrue, but what of it? If never complain about the media is the first rule, then never complain about getting the first question is, like, the zeroith.

Clinton later referred to the fact that she barely had time to sleep, but she didn’t need to – that remark had already said it all. It was followed by an excruciating reference to a Saturday Night Live sketch from last week, in which their Hillary had done a big riff about the easy ride Obama was getting – “ohhhhh, someone get Senator Obama a pillow”.

It was… well I don’t know what it was. There isn’t language for someone quoting their own parody version as an ironic mode of referencing what the parody was ripping the p-ss out of in the first place. The metamorphosis to Tracey Flick was complete, capped off by her desire to not only speak in the debate but moderate it as well, cutting off the hosts repeatedly.

It was scrappy and painful to watch and part way through I switched over to the dubbed version on the Spanish channel. Here was the real Hillary, with a stronger, darker, dare I say sultrier voice. Hillarita sounded like someone who had suffered much – perhaps in the Mexican slums – and risen from poverty to the commanding heights of a global perfume empire and the love of a Swiss count, only to have a stranger appear from her past and seek to undo it all. You could almost hear the castanets.

If only at this point she could run dubbed, she’d romp it in. Obama meanwhile sounded like a Barcelona tram conductor. I suspect foul play in the dubbing choices.

Peter Fray

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