It was a so-so day for President-elect Obama’s cabinet nominees at yesterday’s Senate confirmation hearings.

Secretary of State nominee Hillary Clinton got singed with a few hard questions about husband Bill’s globetrotting and fund-raising.

And Treasury secretary nominee Timothy Geithner was embarrassed with revelations that he had not paid all his income taxes on time from 2001 to 2004. Presumably, he’s got all those complicated income tax rules figured out now that he’s about to become the titular head of the IRS.

But it was smooth sailing for our own Arne Duncan, Obama’s choice to head the Department of Education. Try as they might the senators couldn’t pin him down on anything–high-stakes testing, charter schools, No Child Left Behind. He was so nimble that when his testimony was over Democrats and Republicans were all singing his praise.

I’m not surprised. Having watched him in action for the last eight or so years, ducking and dodging activists, teachers, union leaders, parents, big-shot insiders, consultants, and even his all-powerful boss, the mayor, I’ve concluded that Duncan’s second only to the great Barack Obama himself in political dexterity.

Put it this way: bridging the contradictions between various education policies is nothing compared with explaining how Boss Daley’s TIF program actually benefits the school children it steals from.