After almost a year on the campaign trail, a difference has become obvious between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
No, it is not the question of whether Hillary's proposal for health reform, which mandates universal coverage for all, will or will not cover 15 million more Americans than Obama's.
No, it's not the question of whether it is useful to say, as Obama does (but Hillary pointedly does not), that as President he would meet with the heads of enemy states, such as North Korea and Iran, without setting pre-conditions.
I am talking about a much deeper difference than these, although these (and almost every policy difference between them, however seemingly unrelated and trivial) are in fact expressions of it.
The deep difference is this: Hillary is about ends; Obama is about means.
If Democrats and informed citizens of all kinds believe that the political scene in Washington D.C. is too corrupt, too complex, and too compromised for them to play a significant role in it, then naturally they will gravitate towards a champion, a seasoned warrior, someone they can send in fully armed, on their behalf. They will choose someone whom they can send into a dark, dusty hole, with confidence that after the sounds of clanking armor and the anguished screams subside, she will step back into the light to declare, say... the passing into law of a modest reform guaranteeing that private health insurance companies will, beginning in 2012, not preclude applicants based on pre-existing conditions.
Hillary is about getting it done (just don't tell us how you did it!).
If, on the other hand, Democrats and informed citizens across this land believe that the political scene in Washington D.C. still presents opportunities for change, that "we the people" may still have a significant part to play in that miraculous movement from inchoate ideas to collective agreements backed up by force (what we commonly refer to as law-making), then they will want someone to represent them, someone to lead them en masse, someone to articulate and explain their positions, say... that, despite the objections of U.S. corporations doing business in China, existing law already authorizes inspections on the ground at Chinese factories to ensure that they are meeting environmental and labor standards.
Obama is about outmaneuvering his adversaries to meet them on his own terms (just don't disappoint us!).
The real choice between Hillary and Obama depends on how bad you think things are.
Do you see politics as a contest for hardened warriors, an endurance event, a blood-bath? Is it now, and will it forever be, a dark and dusty hole?
Or do you see politics as a Town Hall, a calling, a colloquy of concerned citizens? In other words, as we go into battle, can we talk about it?
The contrasting labels thrown at Hillary and Obama -- "experience" vs. "change," "realistic" vs. "naive," "the toughest one on the stage" vs. "the audacity of hope" -- all point to this deep difference. It lies under every utterance of these two highly self-aware people.
So where do you stand? Have you given up yet?
If so, then Hillary is "your girl," as she said in one debate -- but not just any girl, she's your Amazonian warrior, having chopped off one of her breasts to handle the bow more easily, aching to do battle in your name.
Or do you still believe? Then Obama is "your guy," as he responded in the next debate -- your guy, dressed in a simple suit, a man of the people, walking at your side as you enter the chamber.