E.J. Dionne thinks so. He writes today that Hillary Clinton only found her voice when Barack Obama punctured her overconfidence, making her a better candidate. She then had the right message and the infighting motivation to knock Obama off of his nebulous New Politics pedestal, but then gave him an opening to recover with the gas-tax holiday proposal. Dionne likes what he sees in both candidates now:
At this crucial moment, the Democratic presidential battle is a puzzle wrapped in two ironies.
The first: Hillary Clinton found a compelling voice and a plausible strategy only after she had squandered her chances of winning the nomination without a divisive struggle over superdelegates and convention rules. It took a series of defeats to galvanize her campaign and help her put forward a better self.
The second: Clinton’s embrace of a gas tax holiday has endowed Barack Obama with a sense of purpose and a burst of energy at precisely the moment his battered campaign seemed lethargic and reactive. Standing up to a proposal that even Clinton supporters see as pandering has allowed Obama to revisit his most successful days as a fresh voice uninhibited by Washington’s habits.
Thus the puzzle: Is Clinton on an upward path, or is a campaign that has consistently defied the prognosticators about to take another turn?
Dionne makes a pretty good point, although we disagree on the candidates overall. Hillary has become a better candidate after her hubris derailed her in the early primaries. Had this Hillary showed up in December or November, we would have seen this Obama a lot sooner — and she could have sailed to the nomination. Instead, she lashed out at Obama’s kindergarten essays and went so far as to tear up in order to capture some sympathy. Now she looks much more like a fighter, and much more like a triangulator in the tradition of the Clintons by appearing on Fox — and she forced Obama to do the same, undermining him with his hard-Left base.
The gas-tax holiday has left an opening for Obama, though, and one he desperately needs. Most people understand that the temporary rescission of the federal gas tax will do nothing to solve the problems of high gas prices. It’s a blatant pander, and Obama can use that as an example of the kind of politics that never solves any problems. Unfortunately, nothing Obama proposes will solve the problem, either. Both he and Hillary want to hike taxes on oil companies, which will raise prices as the companies pass the burden to the consumer at the pumps.
New Hillary and Old Obama may make for a more interesting finish for the Democratic primaries. However, the end result will be the same old tax-and-spend philosophy that will increase federal encroachment on markets and capital. No daylight exists between Hillary and Obama in any of their incarnations, and in the end both offer nothing more than style rather than substance.