Technology with attitude

When Obama Attacks

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David Brooks writes about an issue I’ve been contemplating. If Barack Obama ends up “getting tough” on Hillary Clinton, doesn’t he lose his most compelling selling point – namely that he’s a new kind of politician? Brooks looks at what an attacking Obama would mean:

And the Clinton people will draw them every step of the way. Clinton can’t compete on personality, but a knife fight is her only real hope of victory. She has nothing to lose because she never promised to purify America. Her campaign doesn’t depend on the enthusiasm of upper-middle-class goo-goos. On Thursday, a Clinton aide likened Obama to Ken Starr just to badger them on.

As the trench warfare stretches on through the spring, the excitement of Obama-mania will seem like a distant, childish mirage. People will wonder if Obama ever believed any of that stuff himself. And even if he goes on to win the nomination, he won’t represent anything new. He’ll just be a one-term senator running for president.

In short, a candidate should never betray the core theory of his campaign, or head down a road that leads to that betrayal. Barack Obama doesn’t have an impressive record of experience or a unique policy profile. New politics is all he’s got. He loses that, and he loses everything. Every day that he looks conventional is a bad day for him.

Just like John McCain gets extra blowback every time he panders because he’s branded himself the “straight talk” candidate, Obama will get extra blowback every time he fires off an attack because he’s branded himself the post-divisiveness candidate. Clinton, meanwhile, has never branded herself as anything but a trench warrior. She doesn’t have to live up to any lofty expectations except “getting the job done.”

Can Obama win without getting dirty? Sure. In fact, it’s probably the only way he can win. But it’ll take a level of discipline rarely seen in political operatives.