What sauce do you eat with crow? That's the question asked by yours truly and an unhealthy majority of my fellow travelers on the press bus who could not resist speculating the fallout from Hillary Clinton's losing the Texas or Ohio primary.
Would she soldier on or get out in order to preserve her dignity and her future? Or would her campaign troops lead such a scorched-earth, take-no-prisoners assault on Barack Obama in Pennsylvania that the survivor would be left unelectable in November?
But those pesky voters once again - just as they had after Obama won Iowa, after Clinton won New Hampshire and Nevada, and after Obama later won 12 contests in a row - humbled all professional and amateur know-it-alls by declaring loudly: "You were just as wrong in 2007 when you declared Clinton 'inevitable' as you were in 2008 when you called Obama 'inevitable.' This is our decision. We take it seriously, and don't try to take it away from us!"
Once again chastened by election results, I modestly offer the following observations on this remarkable presidential saga.
American Optimism: Missing From Campaign 2008.
By actual measurement, Americans have consistently been the most optimistic people on the planet. Because of their pervasive optimism, Americans reflexively welcomed change, which they judged to be synonymous with improvement, while other peoples in more established societies spent time, energy and effort trying to hold back change.
In 2008, American optimism is almost as scarce as Rudy Giuliani delegates (the former New York mayor spent $55 million for zero delegates). Fully two out of three Americans now believe that their own children's lives and futures will not be as bright and as full as their own lives have been.
"Hope," as Sir Francis Bacon noted, "is a good breakfast, but it is a bad supper." The electorate is firmly in the grasp of - not economic anxiety, but more accurately, economic fear. In hurting places like Ohio and Pennsylvania, hope, alone, is not a compelling campaign theme.
How bad is the economy? Here are two, as yet, unconfirmed reports: In New Jersey, the economic picture is so bleak that the Soprano family was forced to lay off three judges. When the abusive Ebenezer Scrooge fired poor Bob Cratchit, immediately 73 people applied for his job.
American voters are always in the market for one of two types of presidential candidates: A tough, no-nonsense liberal and/or an upbeat, compassionate conservative.
The last liberal candidate who projected a genuine toughness was Robert Kennedy in 1968. Ronald Reagan in 1980 and George W. Bush in 2000 qualified as upbeat conservatives who showed a compassionate side.
Based upon his insistence of reminding GOP primary voters that undocumented immigrants working in the United States illegally still had to be treated as "God's children" and his environmental record, John McCain could qualify as a compassionate conservative. Now, can Barack Obama show, in the trenchant question of respected pollster Peter Hart, "that he is not only tough enough to take a punch, but aggressive enough to throw a punch"?
To that, I would add: Will Obama prove his toughness not just by attacking Clinton or McCain, but by publicly telling some powerful interest group what they do not want to hear?
Can he tell an assembly of super-wealthy hedge-fund moguls that their paying federal taxes at a rate lower than that imposed upon the human beings who clean and scrub their executive washrooms is morally and politically unacceptable? Or how about telling a teachers' union that in an Obama administration, teachers will earn new respect and rewards by first establishing their professional qualifications by passing tests in the subject matters they are teaching?
To John McCain's credit, he seems to loyally support President Bush when he believes Bush is right, and McCain tries mightily to keep quiet the other 65 percent of the time.
To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.