It showed a side of Barack Obama not seen before or since. And it wasn’t pretty. Asked in the Saturday Democratic debate about her dearth of “likability,” Clinton offered an answer both artful and sweet — first, demurely saying her feelings were hurt and mock-heroically adding that she would try to carry on regardless, then generously conceding that Obama is very likable and “I don’t think I’m that bad.”
At which point, Obama, yielding to some inexplicable impulse, gave the other memorable unscripted moment of the New Hampshire campaign — the gratuitous self-indicting aside: “You’re likable enough, Hillary.” He said it looking down and with not a smile but a smirk.
Rising rock star puts down struggling diva — an unkind cut, deeply ungracious, almost cruel, from a candidate who had the country in a swoon over his campaign of grace and uplift. The media gave that moment little play, but millions saw it live, and I could surely not have been the only one who found it jarring.
Nonsense. I saw it at the time too and thought it was sweet. Obama wasn’t smirking, he was smiling semi-sheepishly after she called him “very likeable” and then he repaid the compliment half-teasingly. The “enough” part isn’t a putdown, it’s the equivalent of “You’re not so bad yourself,” and everyone — including Hillary and Charlie Gibson, whom you can hear laughing — seems to take it that way. Plus, as one of our commenters said last night in the headlines item, the fact that he’d give her that much after some of the crap coming out of her camp — the Billy Shaheen drugs thing, the Bob Kerrey madrassa revisited — is probably more than she deserves.
The other way to read the line is as “you’re likeable enough [to be president].” Which also helps her, since he’s conceding that his big advantage over her isn’t so big that anyone should prefer him for it. Watch it and see for yourself. Who’s right?