Grimaces to grins

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama will make it official on Thursday, three weeks after ending a brutal 17-month contest, that they’re a team. Release the fake smiles, cue the mutual respect and prepare for gushing compliments heretofore unuttered — and pretty much unthinkable.

Oh, it’s tense all right, but Barack’s got the bread and Hillary’s got the juice. It won’t take forgiving or forgetting to get those debts paid off and to tell those sore Democrats just who to vote for now. To make it super-cute, someone has determined the two will appear together for the first time, burying the hatchet in the tiny town of Unity, N.H. Unity was chosen because Obama and Clinton each won 107 votes there, long before the race became so hostile that each declared “shame” on the other. Of course, those harsh words are distant memories now. In Unity everyone’s a winner, everything is fair and equitable and, well, unified. In fact, in Unity the phone never rings at 3 a.m., and no one ever has to take the first debate question.

It all sounds so promising and hopeful. Hillary may get inspired to say (again): “Let’s just get everybody together, let’s get unified, the sky will open, the light will come down, celestial choirs will be singing.”

Yet as this new fairy tale — whoops, to quote Bill Clinton — unfolds in Unity, there are still so many lingering questions. As Hillary Clinton joins the Obama movement and works “her heart out” to get him elected, will Democrats forget she said John McCain “has a lifetime of experience and Sen. Obama has a speech he gave in 2002”? On Day One of unification in Unity, will Hillary proclaim Obama ready to be commander in chief?

Will Hillary’s supporters be reminded that the long-ago vote in Unity foretold the ultimate outcome, a near-draw won by Obama in delegates but not the popular vote? Can those Clinton fans forget the New Hampshire debate when Obama, who was then 10 points ahead, said snidely, “You’re likable enough Hillary,” before getting slapped down by Clinton’s surprise victory? Will her words from her video the night Obama clinched the nomination — about her winning more votes than any other candidate in any other primary ever — still ring in their ears?

Will Obama feel bitter and cling to the fact that a Clinton supporter — ordained minister Barbara Reynolds — helped arrange the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s infamous trip to the National Press Club to pummel him a week before the Indiana and North Carolina primaries? Will Obama forget that Clinton accused him of plotting his presidential run in kindergarten and plagiarizing from Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, or that she energetically highlighted his associations with Wright, William Ayers and Anthony Rezko?

Could Obama ever forget anything Bill Clinton said about him?

Will Clinton forget that Obama claimed Clinton took credit for the entire eight years of her husband’s presidency, except for what didn’t work out; that she was polarizing, with “a sense of aggrievement on her part that makes it difficult to essentially bring the country together”; and that there would be a “whole dump truck that they can back up in a match-up between her and John McCain”?

After their long duel, how much has really changed? Not change you can Xerox, but change we can believe in? Then again, none of this unity has to be real or true. Just as a peaceful landing in Bosnia can be recalled with sniper fire, an epic feud can surely be remembered fondly now with great nostalgia.

Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.