Hillary blew it. That was the instant reaction in the room where I watched the State of the Union address. It was such a simple thing, but the senator from New York missed her cue. It was this: Smile and show the nice people that you're a human being and that you have a sense of humor.
But no. When President George W. Bush tossed a valentine to her husband, former President Bill Clinton, the senator sat stone-faced, nary a crack in her facade.
Truthfully, I'm pulling for everyone deep down. I have no bone to pick with Hillary Clinton, no wish to see her stumble. But I admit to being fascinated, and I watch her closely. I especially watch her when she's out of sight; listen when she's quiet. You learn a lot about people not just by what they say, but by what they don't say.
Or by what they don't do, where they don't show up. With a Clinton, no move is accidental. And she is, of course, considered the most likely Democratic candidate for president in 2008. Could she win? Polls indicate that people are ready to support a woman for the highest office and that being female is no longer an obstacle. In fact, at this juncture, it may be an asset.
Certainly, Clinton is qualified to be president. Smart and well-educated, she's fluent on issues and hard-working. She's also managed a difficult marriage in plain view and has raised a well-adjusted daughter whose success any parent would envy.
So what is it about Hillary that sets some people off?
I've had a hundred conversations with people who can't quite put their finger on the reason Clinton is such a lightning rod. Or why some dislike her with such visceral intensity. Many don't just disagree with her; they can't stand her.
Yet, by other accounts, people who know her love her. Those who have met her attest to her charm, intelligence and decency. There's nothing fundamentally wrong with Hillary Clinton, no critical resume gap. She's not evil, obviously, but her enemies would have you think otherwise. Why? The answer may have revealed itself during Bush's speech.
Clinton is self-aware enough to know that wherever she is, the camera will seek her out. Thus, her response to public events has to be measured, safe and controlled, if not studied. She's not going to be rearranging her skirt during the most important speech of the presidential year, in other words.
Predictably at such times, she doesn't show approval of the president's policies. Like other Democrats in the audience, she carefully selects when she'll applaud, when she'll stand.
Inevitably, when Bush made the one light comment of the evening, which happened to make reference to her husband, the camera zoomed to Clinton. Her lips, painted crimson, were a bright beacon in a sea of dark suits.
Bush was discussing stresses to the Social Security system and mentioned that the first baby boomers were turning 60, including two of his father's favorite people, "me and President Bill Clinton."
Badaboom! Pan to Hillary.
Nothing, nada, zip. Cheekbones bouncing light back to the fluorescent gods, her ruby lips a door slammed shut for all eternity to the minions of mirth. My mind immediately free-associates to the ancient vampires in Anne Rice's "Vampire Chronicles," who, cold and bloodless through the ages, had turned to stone. Clinton was the sphinx the joker couldn't budge.
I don't know what was going through her mind in that moment, but her expression said, "Bug off," or sentiments to that effect. What we do know is that Bill Clinton would have loved it. And laughed. And reminded us of his humanness and his ready sense of humor.
His wife, by defining contrast, showed the world that she is something else. That thing -- what is it? It is what she isn't: human, gracious and humorous.