There’s a reason last night’s final debate comment from Hillary Clinton — and her respectful gesture to Barack Obama — brought a cheering Texas audience to its feet. To be sure, the debate had ended, but the moment served as a perfect metaphor for what these two extraordinary Democratic candidates have come to symbolize for this year’s elections.

From the CNN transcript:

CLINTON: You know, the hits I’ve taken in life are nothing compared to what goes on every single day in the lives of people across our country.

And I resolved at a very young age that I’d been blessed and that I was called by my faith and by my upbringing to do what I could to give others the same opportunities and blessings that I took for granted.

That’s what gets me up in the morning. That’s what motivates me in this campaign.
(APPLAUSE)

And, you know, no matter what happens in this contest — and I am honored, I am honored to be here with Barack Obama. I am absolutely honored.
(APPLAUSE)

CLINTON: Whatever happens, we’re going to be fine. You know, we have strong support from our families and our friends. I just hope that we’ll be able to say the same thing about the American people, and that’s what this election should be about.

There was some speculation on the post-debate analysis about whether Hillary Clinton was foreshadowing the end of her campaign, now that the most recent polls show Obama closing the gaps in Ohio and Texas. It’s true that during the debate, she did not repeat the implication that Obama wasn’t qualified, and she stayed away from a back door fight over won delegates — that will "work itself out." But I don’t think throwing in the towel was the point.

Her final line was one she might have borrowed (with irony) from John Edwards, at an earlier moment in this campaign when the Democratic party essentially recognized that retaking the Presidency and indeed the point of government service was a duty owed to the American people. It is they who have suffered through the dreadful years of the Bush Administration, and it is their economic future and security that are at stake.

Almost everything else in the debate involved details about how a Democratic President will begin to address the appalling neglect and injustices the Bush regime has inflicted on the country. These details will eventually matter, but for now, the main message Democrats are delivering is that we have two exceptional candidates who understand what has happened and who are both committed to do something about the mess we’re in, to address the problems with intelligence and compassion and to pursue solutions with energy and determination. We have not had a government like that in nearly at least a decade, and the thunderous applause last night was all in anticipation of its imminent return.

The notion that government is an essential force to improve the lives of ordinary people is not only a rejection of George Bush, but also of Ronald Reagan. John McCain and his Republican followers have no idea what this is about, and that is why they will lose the country.