The Washington Press Corps, watching the State of the Union Address like it was an episode of Saved By The Bell, decided that the big story of the SOTU wasn’t the flagging economy, or the war in Iraq, but rather the fact that Zack Obama and Kelly Clinton didn’t make out during the speech.

When members of the Senate entered the chamber, Obama came in before Clinton. He went out of his way to greet as many House members as possible and walked halfway across the chamber to greet members of the Supreme Court, the president’s cabinet, the military joint chiefs.

That made what happened next even more striking. Obama returned to stand by his seat next to Sen. Edward Kennedy who endorsed Obama today in a widely watched event that reverberated across the political world.

As Clinton approached, Kennedy made sure to make eye contact and indicated he wanted to shake her hand. Clinton leaned towards Kennedy over a row of seats and Kennedy leaned in towards her. They shook hands.

Obama stood icily staring at Clinton during this, then turned his back and stepped a few feet away. Kennedy may’ve wanted to make peace with Clinton but Obama clearly wanted no part of that.

As president, Obama has said he would meet with the U.S.’s enemies without precondition. But making nice with Clinton apparently is another mattter after the increasingly angry fight the two have waged, with charges and countercharges, for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Can we trust Obama’s promise to meet with leaders of rival states without possibly snubbing them by not buying them a milkshake and a slice of pizza at The Max?

The Snub, as this moment has been dubbed, will plod along for weeks and possibly become a part of the political vocabulary. The Clinton campaign was hoping a delegateless win in Florida would halt the momentum of Obama’s win in South Carolina, but instead they’ve fallen ass-backwards into this story, which ultimately places Hillary in the only role in which she gets positive press: as a victim. It is the only role in which our sexist media has decided it is appropriate to treat her sympathetically.

The danger which Obama and Hillary face is in deviating from the script of their assigned roles based on race and gender. The problem is that for each of them, running in itself is deviating from accepted social norms.

The Snub is, like many other political flashpoints, (Dean Scream, Bush Poll Surge, Clinton Collapse, “This is Good For John McCain”) a press fabrication.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, the Illinois senator said all the talk swirling around the moment the two crossed paths Monday night is much ado about nothing.

“I was surprised by sort of the reports this morning,” Obama told reporters. “You know there was the photograph in the Times about, sort of, me turning away. I was turning away because [Sen.] Claire [McCaskill] asked me a question as Sen. [Ted] Kennedy was reaching for her.”

“Sen. Clinton and I have very cordial relations off the floor and on the floor. I waved at her as we were coming into the Senate chamber before we walked over last night,” he continued. “I think that there’s just a lot more tea leaf reading going on here than I think people are suggesting.”

How dare Obama tell the press what the story is! The Washington press as a group had already decided that The Snub was the big story of the evening. What else could possibly be as important?

The Chicago Tribune’s transparent effort to turn the story to something substantive is reminiscent of the Right Wing talking points last spring regarding Fox News. But even the attempt to turn The Snub into a serious story with the question “If he can’t shake Hillary’s hand, how will he talk to Hugo Chavez?” is obscured by the candid admission in the lede:

So President Bush has delivered his last State of the Union. And what everyone in the House press gallery is talking about isn’t the speech. Rather, it’s the snub.

It’s the story because that’s what everyone in the press gallery wanted to talk about. Not because it’s important, not because it even happened the way it’s been written, but because it’s all the cool kids in the press room wanted to talk about. Baseless speculation about the candidates’ personal interaction is, after all, easier than writing about something that matters.

UPDATE: Forgot to mention Steve M.’s take:

You can blame Bill Clinton for the fact that Democrats are covered this way, but I blame the Vanity Fair-ization of the political press — that is, the spreading of the notion that there simply isn’t a line that separates glitz and substance — and I remind you that VF has been fairly besotted with the Reagans since the 1980s. But Clinton went Hollywood, and he was popular, and Republicans, especially Bush, were openly contemptuous of Hollywood and glitz (and, in Bush’s case, even entertaining or staying up late), and Bush and the Republicans began to screw up everything they touched, and so political journalists who craved fabulousness began to associate it exclusively with the Democrats.

By November the Republicans will get to seem like the party of Main Street (even if the nominee is Mitt Romney, who seems as if he owns Main Street). As it is, right now they even get to hang out with celebrities (Huckabee with Chuck Norris, Rudy, lately, with Jon Voight) without seeming like people who hang out with celebrities. By now, the Democrats don’t even have to hang out with stars — the Clintons and Obama, at least, are the stars.


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