EXCEPT FOR THE PAPERWORK, it’s all over now. Barack Obama is now the presumptive presidential nominee of the Democratic Party. He grabbed the brass ring on Tuesday night by crushing Hillary Clinton in North Carolina and coming within a whisker of surpassing her in Indiana.

This is the second or third time — maybe even the fourth? — since January that Obama has clinched the nomination. But this time, it’s finally been acknowledged by a media that sought to simulate a race that ended weeks ago. Clinton’s Second Life candidacy is definitively done. Now it’s only a matter of exactly when and how — not if — her screen will go dark.

Every manufactured rationale to justify a nullification of Obama’s candidacy by the appointed Superdelegates has now been erased. At the trough of Obama’s worst three weeks in the entire campaign, Hillary Clinton failed to catch him, let alone knock him out.

Let’s jump ahead, then, to the postmortem. Clinton’s fatal flaw was extending the campaign as long as she did. The more the voters got to see her act, the more diminished the return. Yes, Obama faltered. He was revealed to be mortal. He slipped up in Bittergate. His historic speech on racism was eclipsed by the circuslike antics of an unhinged Rev. Jeremiah Wright. The 800-pound reality of race plopped itself foursquare in the middle of Camp Obama.

All that, however, wasn’t enough for Clinton. Instead of letting her rival slowly discombobulate himself, she barged onto stage after stage and cockily assumed she was about to default to victory. In short, she took the attention away from Obama’s slide and, instead, starkly reminded America how many of us can’t abide her.

With oil crashing the $120 mark, the stock market nervously twitching, economic uncertainty swelling, the death toll once again rising in Iraq and her own threats to “obliterate” Iran escalating in tone, Hillary Clinton had the bright idea to pump up John McCain’s harebrained gimmick to temporarily suspend the federal gasoline tax.

Here we had the real Hillary Clinton stripped down to her morally emaciated essence. Thirty-five years, by her count, of selfless and noble public service and she banks her faltering presidential campaign on a demagogic trick worthy of a hack two-bit ward boss.

What a sight it was this past weekend, just as the battle for Indiana was climaxing, to watch the $109 Million Baby stand before a room of Hoosier Democrats to rail and fulminate against the oil monopolies. It was a performance that evoked the brilliant, blustering populist Matthew Harrison Brady in the classic film Inherit the Wind. But just as the audience knew that under the makeup labored a wonderfully talented Fredric March, so did America figure out that Hillary Clinton, slayer of special interests, was but a modern-media vaudeville act.

In what history will note as Clinton’s final days as a presidential candidate, she left herself no option other than to run against herself and against the entire Clinton legacy. She stigmatized China for its trade role with the U.S., but it was Senator Clinton who had steadfastly supported her husband’s successful push for Most Favored Nation trade status for China.

She vowed to oppose free trade policies but, let’s not kid ourselves, she was a full-on supporter of NAFTA (which was the first issue on which Bill Clinton triangulated his own party in Congress). She said she would end, once and for all, the No Child Left Behind program — which she had supported. She denounced the war in Iraq and promised to bring home the same troops she voted to authorize sending there in the first place.

She denounced a web of Washington special interests, which is the same network that finances her. She ridiculed Wall Street hedge-fund managers who make “$50 million” a year, when her husband had just bagged $25 million from the Yucaipa investment firm in which he was a partner with Ron Burkle (and while Chelsea builds a career precisely as a Wall Street investment manager).

While Hillary Clinton was onstage, promising to “roll up her sleeves” and fight single-mindedly for the Little Man, Slick Willie was rolling through a 10-stop stump of rural North Carolina, making a direct appeal for, um, the White Man’s vote.

Frankly, I’m going to miss the Clintons. Part of me wishes they would slog it out right onto the convention floor. Every day they campaigned was one more day in which the fearsome twosome consumed and shredded yet one more swath of their ill-deserved political legacy. Alas, it’s now all in the past tense.

LA Weekly