When Obama Attacks
David Brooks writes about an issue Iâ€™ve been contemplating. If Barack Obama ends up â€œgetting toughâ€ on Hillary Clinton, doesnâ€™t he lose his most compelling selling point â€“ namely that heâ€™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 canâ€™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 doesnâ€™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 wonâ€™t represent anything new. Heâ€™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 doesnâ€™t have an impressive record of experience or a unique policy profile. New politics is all heâ€™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 heâ€™s branded himself the â€œstraight talkâ€ candidate, Obama will get extra blowback every time he fires off an attack because heâ€™s branded himself the post-divisiveness candidate. Clinton, meanwhile, has never branded herself as anything but a trench warrior. She doesnâ€™t have to live up to any lofty expectations except â€œgetting the job done.â€
Can Obama win without getting dirty? Sure. In fact, itâ€™s probably the only way he can win. But itâ€™ll take a level of discipline rarely seen in political operatives.