Every so often, while reading some of the insidery Washington, D.C. stuff that political reporters love to pass along to the reading public, we catch a glimpse of a storyline that we just know is going to come to dominate coverage. And it ain’t always pretty.


Just like this fall’s Senate race in Virginia dealt with just about every issue under the sun — aside from the issues that might actually effect the voters of the state of Virginia — it looks like the speculation over the Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama bids for the White House in 2008 have already reached the Page Six stage.


This morning’s Washington Post gave us what amounts to the Beltway’s version of a People magazine scene piece, in which Charles Babington and Shailagh Murray took to the front page to let us know that “During a routine vote yesterday morning, [Barack] Obama and [Hillary] Clinton brushed past each other on the Senate floor. Obama winked and touched Clinton on her elbow. Without pausing, she kept walking.”


Essentially, that’s the only new bit of information that the piece imparted to the public. There was also a scene, however, from a recent dinner party at Senator Ted Kennedy’s house, where we were told that Kennedy seated “the two superstars on his right and left at dinner,” and that on the health and education committee, Clinton and Obama are probably going to have to sit next to each other.


Pieces like this — specifically, the encounter on the floor of the Senate — work so well, and they’re so loved by the punditry, because they serve to reinforce the conventional wisdom that Obama is a polite, charming, wunderkind, while Hillary is a frosty careerist who can’t stop to exchange even the briefest of pleasantries. Just to make sure that that point comes across loud and clear, Babington and Murray tell us a few paragraphs later that recently, Obama “made a point of praising Clinton,” while generally, “Clinton has been less effusive.”


Still not convinced? The Post reporters offer some more examples of affable Obama and cool Clinton. While Hillary “rarely engag[es] in hallway banter with reporters before and after votes,” earlier this week “Obama lingered by the elevators near the Senate floor, feeding quotes on Medicare and tax cuts to a gaggle of scribes. Clinton rushed by a few minutes later, flanked by staff members, and headed straight onto a waiting elevator.”


And just like that, the conventional wisdom of the wise men (and women) of Washington congeals into what passes for fact in the image-obsessed realm of politics. You know, those nuanced pulse-takings that declared WWII bomber pilot George H.W. Bush a wimp, or Al Gore a bore. And we have no doubt that you’ll read variations of this story pretty regularly from now until one of the two potential candidates officially drops out of the presidential race. Since that’s not likely to be anytime soon, all we can say is good luck — it’s going to be a long preamble to the actual primary season, which is still over a year away.

Paul McLeary is senior editor of Defense Technology International magazine, and is a former CJR staffer.