Carol Platt Liebau: Ain't Seen Nothing Yet?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Ain't Seen Nothing Yet?

John Heilemann of New York magazine writesthat the Clinton people have given up hope of getting a message like "ready on day one" to stick, and are therefore pursuing a different strategy:

That they have more arrows in their quiver to fire at Obama, charges they believe will cast doubt on the hopemonger, raising the specter (terrifying to many Democrats) that John McCain and the Republican machine will make mincemeat of him. Trust me when I tell you that you ain't seen nothing yet.

As the situation grows more dire for Hillary, we will finally have the chance to see who was right all along about the character of the Clintons. Conservatives have long thought that they're ruthless, ambitious street-fighters, willing to put their own advancement above any other consideration. Liberals have, for the most part, believed that the Clintons are flawed but nonetheless sincere and patriotic warriors for a number of worthy (liberal) causes.

If it becomes clear after Ohio and Texas that the nomination will become nothing but a fight over super-delegates (that, in essence, Obama has the mandate of the Democratic masses), will Hillary gracefully concede, thereby sparing the party months of infighting and possibly a schism along racial lines? Or will she decide (Huckabee-style) to fight until the last dog dies, knowing that it's her best (and perhaps last) chance to justify all the compromises and petty humiliations she's endured in her long quest for the ultimate prize? Finally, we will learn whose interests are more important to Hillary: Her own, or those of the Democratic Party (and, in her view, the country).

At this point, going negative on Obama is less a "choice" for Clinton than a necessity. The problem for her, of course, is that where there are few policy differences between them, it comes down to likability -- which is a plus for Obama. Where there are policy differences between them, his policies are much more left -- which again, among a lefty Democratic primary electorate, is a plus for Obama. There's nothing in her arsenal that will help her beside attacks on Obama that are essentially about character (which will, in turn, raise her own negatives even higher).

Hillary is paying the ultimate price for Clintonian arrogance in having pursued a more moderate "general election strategy" too early. And the effort to have her husband step in as a surrogate attacker obviously haven't worked. But then again, who would ever have guessed at the rise of a phenom like Barack?

That very question has a fair number of Republicans privately quivering in their boots. They needn't. So far, Hillary's attacks on Barack have necessarily been limited to the petty and personal because, as noted immediately above, any policy differences work to her disadvantage. John McCain, a moderate who has to appeal to a general election electorate, won't have that problem.


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