Don't ask me whether Hillary Clinton won Tuesday night's Cleveland debate, because I am not a woman. And before you call that sexist, note that Senator Clinton used sexism as her last gambit.
Prior to this twentieth Democratic debate the big question was which Hillary would show up. Would it be the valedictorian who spoke last Thursday in Austin of what an honor it was to be competing against Barack Obama? Or would it be the fury who chastised her rival just two days later in Cincinnati, "Shame on you, Barack Obama!" Or would it be the satirist who just a day after that, in Rhode Island, mocked Obama's oratorical flights?
It turned out that all three Hillarys turned up for the MSNBC debate. She again said she was proud to campaign against Obama, but accused him of misrepresenting her record and suggested that one of the fawning media members might want to get him a pillow. That last jibe, referring to a Saturday Night Live skit, was the most telling.
Throughout her political career, Hillary Clinton has done best when she has portrayed herself as a victim. The nation first met her as the wronged wife in the Gennifer Flowers scandal, when Hillary contemptuously said she would not "stand by her man" and then did exactly that -- both candidate Bill Clinton and the aspiring First Lady assuring "60 Minutes" that this sort of fling would not happen again.
Then Hillary was a victim of vast right wing conspiracies regarding cattle futures, the White House travel office, the death of Vince Foster, missing Rose Law Firm billing records and FBI files, and of course the Whitewater probe that resulted in 14 convictions.
Most notoriously, Mrs. Clinton was victim in chief of the Paula Jones-Monica Lewinsky investigation that was authorized by Hillary Clinton's hand-picked attorney general, Janet Reno.
Then, on her way out of the White House, Clinton was victimized by her ineffectual Senate opponent Rick Lazio when he walked across a stage toward her during a debate.
More recently she was the victim who choked up in New Hampshire and pulled out a crucial primary win.
And finally, Tuesday night in Cleveland, Hillary Clinton was the victim of biased media - not FOX but NBC - which she complained was once again asking her the first debate question.
But beyond all else, Hillary Clinton is a victim because she is a woman. She said during the Cleveland debate: "Obviously I am thrilled to be running to be the first woman president, which I think would be a sea change in our country and around the world, and would give . . . enormous hope and, you know, a real challenge to the way things have been done, and who gets to do them, and what the rules are." So far as I can find, Margaret Thatcher and Golda Meir never made a similar pitch.
Barack Obama refused to be drawn into identity politics. When asked in Cleveland about a photo of him in Somali dress supposedly circulated by the Clinton campaign, Obama said he accepted Clinton's "not to my knowledge" statement and moved on. You can say he wouldn't be in this race were it not for his race. Obama himself has cited his upbringing abroad and exposure to Islam as factors that would help him understand and be understood by other people. But he has not made identity a central theme of his campaign. He is running not as a black candidate but as a candidate who just happens to be black.
Ohio and Texas, or perhaps Pennsylvania, and if need be the convention super delegates have all been called Clinton's firewalls. But really she has just one firewall left: older white women. You will have to ask one of them if Hillary Clinton won the Cleveland debate.