ANALYSIS: Clinton vs. Obama, 'The Hustler' of '08?

If you haven't seen the 1961 movie "The Hustler" starring Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason, you should — it's a classic.

As I watched the Democratic New Hampshire debate Saturday night, that movie popped into my mind.

Fast Eddie, a young, vigorous and skillful pool player, takes on the legendary Minnesota Fats, the old champion. They agree to play and the last man standing wins the pot.

Fast Eddie runs the table in game after game but as the hours go by he begins to tire. The Fat Man just keeps coming, steady and relentlessness. During one break, as Fast Eddie slumps in the corner exhausted, the Fat Man washes up, applies some talcum, comes out of the washroom and says, "Fast Eddie, let's play some pool!"


And in the end, the Fat Man walks out the winner.

Let's face it — Barack Obama is gangbusters. He has patented the issue: change.

He has the common touch: a winning way person to person. He has the charismatic public rallying persona — not since Martin Luther King Jr. spelled out his "dream" at the Lincoln Memorial (and I was there to hear it) has an orator so mesmerized his listeners.

But what about the Fat Man?


There she is — humbled by her fall from grace to be sure — looking old hat with her emphasis on "experience," surrounded by aging familiar faces of people who were yesterday's heroes and not nearly as fascinating in her appearance or uplifting in her oratory.

There is something to be said for the new kid on the block who has not yet bored us with familiar detail. Now really, which one do you see playing Gene Kelly skipping down the street singing in the rain?

Still, the game is not over until only one is left standing. And the Fat Man is not going to fold quickly.

To be sure, thanks to the insane telescoping of primaries there is very little time in which to demonstrate staying power, very little time for people swept up in the moment of a campaign night to take a second look in the cold light of day and perhaps conclude that experience is not a leper (as Bill Richardson argued in the same debate).

However, pray remember the famous saying, "It isn't over until the fat lady sings" or in the case of "The Hustler" the Fat Man folds … and my bet is, a lot more pool will be played before that happens.