Donors and pundits press Barack Obama to go on offense against Hillary Clinton, but is it such a smart strategy?
After all, in last Tuesday’s debate, Obama seemed to be at his best and most comfortable when preaching what his campaign has throughout the year — the politics of hope. One his better lines was in response to the UFO question — is there life out there? “I don’t presume to know.
What I know is there is life here on Earth, and — and that we’re not
attending to life here on Earth,” Obama said.
In this week’s Time, Joe Klein writes, “The ability to eviscerate your opponents is far less important in a
President than the ability to defend yourself. In the nine primary
campaigns I’ve covered, the willingness to attack was a) a sign of
desperation and b) a leading indicator of failure, especially if it
became the defining characteristic of a candidacy. Four years ago, John
Kerry wisely decided not to go negative on Howard Dean and won the
nomination when Dean and Dick Gephardt slaughtered each other in a
negative-ad shoot-out. Now that Edwards has taken the lead against
Clinton, Obama might profit by staying aloof and presidential.”
Two weeks ago, at a fund-raiser at the home of Kelly and Ron Meyer, Obama got in some jabs at Clinton — but he had to tread carefully. When he said, “Hillary will do the right thing, until it is politically inconvenient to do so,” there was virtually no response from the crowd. Although David Geffen has been one of the vocal Clinton critics, many of Hollywood’s Obama supporters I talk to go to lengths to say that they themselves don’t want to be critical of Hillary. They just want a new brand of politics, as Andrew Sullivan writes in the Atlantic Monthly.
Obama pushes the point that he is willing to tell people things they don’t to hear. He often tells crowds the story of his visit to Detroit automakers, when he told them that they needed higher fuel efficiency standards. “There was silence in the room,” Obama says. He told the same story in Malibu, and even said that some of those present will have to get rid of their Hummers.
The problem in pursuing the “attack Clinton” approach is that John Edwards win that battle, even if by mere fact that he’s been through all of this before. He will always trump him. Ironically, the sharper that Obama’s zingers get at Clinton, the less authentic he looks, which is just the case he’s trying to make against her.