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Tuesday, December 11 , 2018, 6:48 am | Fair 42º


Jamie Stiehm: Hillary Clinton Has Her Groove Back After Just One Debate

Hillary and Salome: What do they have in common? 

They both got a bad rap. Strong women often do. Good news: We’ve just met these two in refreshing new takes, as if for the first time.

Each leading lady was “on” for a major opening night, getting glowing reviews from critics and audiences for their onstage performances. Clear across the country, on the same October Tuesday, the political and biblical figures connected in a timeless braid.

Give them this: Hillary Clinton and Salome are made of enduring stuff, as cunning vixen and dancing temptress — the oldest types in the book. Each character is lodged in our psyches.

Suppose the truth was more interesting.

In the gospel according to CNN, The Washington Post and others, Clinton killed the first Democratic presidential debate in Las Vegas. Taking center stage, she owned it.

She let go with a throaty laugh now and then, which only underlined her confidence. The two men on her left and two men on her right were just supporting players besides America’s leading political diva.

As Clinton’s overnight news media fans noted, along with moments when smiles flashed across her face, she exuded dignity and gravitas.

I loved it when Clinton mischievously said, “Republicans,” when the questions of enemies’ lists came up. Even more, when she stated as a woman, she was running as an “outsider.”

Thank you. That was a truth she never uttered before — you know, back in 2008, when, as a candidate, she tried to pretend gender didn’t matter.

Dana Milbank, a Post pundit, wrote, “(Bernie Sanders) and the other men on the stage didn’t look presidential; she did.”​ Op-ed columnist Frank Bruni of The New York Times approvingly compared her to a seamstress and a sorceress, but this is no fairy tale.

On substance, ideas and conviction, the front-runner turned in a flawless knock-’em-dead showing that silenced foes in the first Democratic presidential debate of the 2016 cycle.

Joe Biden, the vice president playing Hamlet on whether to run or not, has now got his answer: Stay home, Joe.

Planned Parenthood got plaudits; the National Rifle Association also got pretty much what it deserved.

Clinton seemed triumphant — there is no other word — when Sanders, her main opponent, defended her over “your damn emails.”

This came after House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., all but admitted his caucus was pursuing a political vendetta against her — what a surprise. The former secretary of state, senator and first lady is old hand at all that. She knows what's up with the men running the House of Representatives.

At the same time, Salome is an original, daring work, part of the first-ever Women’s Voices Theater Festival in Washington, D.C.

Yaël Farber, a young South African woman who adapted and directed the play at the Shakespeare Theatre Company, said the real truth about Salome is lost, yet she found another explanation for her actions: “I’m interested in telling a story that awakens the feminine narrative.”

Salome has been handed down in myth as the seductive stepdaughter of King Herod who asks for the head of John the Baptist — and gets it after dancing for Herod. Dramatist Oscar Wilde had a field day with her. Gustav Klimt’s portrait, etched in gold, is unforgettable.

Farber delved into Judea at the time, when it was occupied by Rome. John the Baptist was a lightning rod to Roman authority as a resistant Hebrew prophet of a better day and land, she said. John was a fasting political prisoner. Salome may have acted as “the revolutionary agent,” in her words. At an opening night dinner, Farber said silences are compelling, trying to speak out of them.

Her theatrical question goes straight to our own historical moment: “At what point do we own the possibility of political action?”

Women’s lives have been lost for so long from power, culture, education and history that it’s an act of will to find or invent them. Women’s voices breaking social silences in leading roles is no small thing, on the same day in east and west.

Clinton, for the first time, was getting into that groove.

And I might add the former Maryland governor, the earnest Martin O’Malley, came from central casting — as a No. 2 — a refreshing reverse of the Obama/Biden ticket, with a youthful vice president and a battle-hardened president.

I’m sure Clinton would be happy to have O’Malley on her team.

Jamie Stiehm writes about politics, culture and history as a weekly Creators Syndicate columnist and regular contributor to U.S. News & World Report, The New York Times and The Washington Post. Follow her on Twitter: @jamiestiehm. The opinions expressed are her own.

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