Wednesday, January 23, 2008


The Billary attacks on Obama are receiving a backlash in several areas. It seems a long time ago now that the other Senator from Illinois referred to those attacks as "swiftboating." Now the man who was the target of the Swift Boat attacks, John Kerry, has characterized such attacks the same way.

This story leading with the Kerry email also cites a couple of journalists calling out the Clintons: On Tuesday, ABC News' Jake Tapper reported that Bill Clinton has been "spreading demonstrably false information," while Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn provided a rare conclusion for the political press: "Bill and Hillary Clinton have lied brazenly about Obama's recent statement about Ronald Reagan." Here's a link to Zorn's column. These weren't the only ones.

Obama himself suggests in an interview that the emails Obama was asked about in a debate--suggesting he is really a Muslim, etc.--are part of a "systematic political strategy," although he says he does not know who is behind it. The Obama campaign announced a South Carolina truth squad to combat distortions.

For what it's worth, a sampling of online comments plus live reaction suggests to me that the backlash has gone beyond politicians and the media. The Billary tactics are reminding people of the bitter divisions and sniping of the 90s involving the Clintons. It's tapping into the "shrill Hill" as a polarizing figure identity that was a major problem for her earlier. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in South Carolina, and whether it gets enough traction to affect the final few polls in the Tsunami Tuesday states.

Other news affecting the campaign: Fred Thompson dropped out of the GOPer race without endorsing anyone yet. And in the realm of maybe important, maybe not, a report that after yesterday's debate, Hillary had a brief closed door meeting with John Edwards.

South Carolina's largest newspaper, The State, endorsed Obama. The editorial said in part:

The restoration of the Clintons to the White House would trigger a new wave of all-out political warfare. That is not all Bill and Hillary’s fault - but it exists, whomever you blame, and cannot be ignored. Hillary Clinton doesn’t pretend that it won’t happen; she simply vows to persevere, in the hope that her side can win. Indeed, the Clintons’ joint career in public life seems oriented toward securing victory and personal vindication.

Sen. Obama’s campaign is an argument for a more unifying style of leadership. In a time of great partisanship, he is careful to talk about winning over independents and even Republicans. He is harsh on the failures of the current administration - and most of that critique well-deserved. But he doesn’t use his considerable rhetorical gifts to demonize Republicans. He’s not neglecting his core values; he defends his progressive vision with vigorous integrity. But for him, American unity - transcending party - is a core value in itself.

Can such unity be restored, in this poisonous political culture? Not unless that is a nominee’s goal from the outset. It will be a difficult challenge for any candidate; but we wait in the hope that someone really will try. There is no other hope for rescuing our republic from the mire.

Sen. Obama would also have the best chance to repair the damage to America’s global reputation. A leader with his biography - including his roots in Africa and his years spent growing up overseas - could transform the world’s view of America. He would seize that opportunity.

He would close the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, which has damaged America’s moral standing, and strive to rebuild many diplomatic relationships.
Despite America’s bitter partisan divide, all sides should agree on this: In such an environment, little gets done. Congress has been largely useless under both Republican and Democratic leadership. Setting aside the ideological conflict for conflict’s sake to get anything worthwhile done has fallen severely out of fashion.

And America certainly has things to get done. From terrorism and climate change to runaway federal entitlement spending, there are big challenges to be faced. Sen. Obama is the only Democrat who plausibly can say that he wants to work with Americans across the political spectrum to address such subjects - and he has the integrity and the skills of persuasion that make him the best-qualified among the remaining Democratic hopefuls to address these challenges.

He would be a groundbreaking nominee. More to the point, he makes a solid case that he is ready to lead the whole country. We see Sen. Barack Obama as the best choice in Saturday’s Democratic primary.

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