Don't let the "Comeback Gal" spin fool you. Despite the unexpectedly close finish in New Hampshire, Hillary Clinton's campaign remains in a tailspin. And the Clintons' pre-Granite State primary finger-pointing has left an indelible mark. It's the media's fault. It's sexism's fault. It's the vast right-wing conspiracy's fault.
Oh, and it's all your fault that you laugh out loud when she tries to steal the mantle of "change" from Barack Obama by surrounding herself on stage with moldy political fogies like Madeleine Albright, Wesley Clark and James Carville.
Watching the Clinton "crackup" before the vote was less like watching glass shatter upon sudden impact and more like watching wax melt under slow, steady heat.
It took a lifetime of lies, deception, hypocrisy and hardball power grabs before Hillary and Bill's political fašades disintegrated. But now, finally, the empty dummy molds underneath have been laid bare completely.
Many will point to Hillary's watery-eyed performance at a Portsmouth rally on Monday as a watershed moment. Down in the polls and facing imminent defeat, the erstwhile anti-Tammy Wynette turned on the spigot and played damsel in distress: "It's not easy, and I couldn't do it if I didn't passionately believe it was the right thing to do. You know, I have so many opportunities from this country. I just don't want to see us fall backward, you know?"
The steely voice infamous for uttering profanities at staffers, state troopers and her Secret Service detail, bellowing at the Bush administration and Rush Limbaugh, and imitating a fiery Southern drawl turned drippy: "You know, this is very personal for me. It's not just political; it's not just public. I see what's happening, and we have to reverse it." Insert heartfelt pauses and choke-ups as directed.
So long, feminist hero. Hello, weeping willow. Anyone who believes Hillary spontaneously teared up and got emotional on the campaign trail has been in a coma the last three decades.
Bill Clinton's diarrhea of the mouth didn't help. He flailed at reporters for putting his poor, poor wife at a "breathtaking disadvantage" (never mind the countless regal magazine covers of his wife and softball coverage over the years); lamented that he can't turn her into something "younger, taller, male," and whined that "the wealthier have more right to free speech than the rest of us" (never mind their $100 million war chest).
In an odd bit of damning with faint praise, Bill told Dartmouth students that "I actually tried to talk Hillary into leaving me when we were in law school, that's the G-d's truth. I told her, 'You have more talent for public service than anybody in my generation that I have met... I shouldn't stand in your way.' She looked at me and said, 'Oh, Bill, I'll never run for office.'"
See, she's lied to him all along.
A few weeks after 9/11, in another moment of crisis in the Clintons' life, I noted Hillary's flabbergasting demeanor during President Bush's address to Congress. Americans around the country also noted her cold behavior.
James Gale of Silver Spring, Md., wrote to The Washington Post: "She at times seemed bored and uninterested, clapping perfunctorily, and at other times she was talking during the speech. I thought her actions were unbecoming a senator at this difficult time."
Teacher Kathie Larkin of Atlanta wrote to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "This is behavior I would not accept from my sixth-graders listening to a speaker, and I expected better of an adult from a state ripped apart by terrorist violence. Hillary needs to grow up."
I noted at the time that adversity magnifies deep character flaws. That hasn't changed. And neither has Hillary.
You can't fake a core. You can't fake charm. And you can't fake humility. Mannequin Hillary tried during the ABC News debate in New Hampshire over the weekend when questioned about her likeability. "Well, that hurts my feelings," she coyly purred in attempted mock self-effacement.
One problem: The Clintons are too steeped in the politics of self-entitlement to pull off credible self-effacement. Seated next to a rival who has stolen her liberal thunder and who might make history as the nation's first black president, Hillary couldn't help declaring: "I am an agent of change, I embody change. I think having the first woman president is a huge change."
She can't tolerate someone else out-politically-correct-ing her. This was supposed to be her year. Her triumph. Her her-story.
Maybe a few of those tears welling up in her eyes were real after all.
Expect more as this contested race a race she thought would be a cakewalk continues.