David Brooks, with his inimitable instinct for oversimplification, has posed a false choice for Barack Obama: get into a "knife fight" with Clinton or refuse to counterattack now that it seems that "Clinton attacked him, and the attacks worked." Brooks mocks the Obama campaign's purported belief that "they can go on the attack, but in the right way. They can be tough and keep their virginity, too."
The last time things got nasty, before South Carolina, Obama shut down the Clinton attack machine for two months by very coolly pointing out that the Clinton's well-known truthiness problems undercut their credibility and hence Hillary's chance to build the "working majority" that Bill Clinton failed to build. In other words, he offered an essentially accurate critique of her Rovian attacks and integrated that critique into his pitch to reform our political process. I think he'll find a way to do that again -- by challenging the Clintons to the kind of disclosure (tax records, donations to the Clinton Library and Foundation, etc.) that they cannot withstand, and by continuing to debunk Hillary's ridiculous claims to substantive foreign policy experience.
It is not true, as Brooks asserts, that Obama"has never explained how this new politics would actually produce bread-and-butter benefits to people in places like Youngstown and Altoona." Obama has been explicit and precise on this point. He will get those "bread-and-butter-benefits" enacted by appealing to independents and Republicans as well as to Democrats; he will take the poison out of the political process by building a "working majority" that will ease partisanship and thus empower him to move to the substantive process reform of curbing lobbyist power. The appeal beyond the party base is grounded in part on the 'demonstration effect' of his clean campaign; in part on his eloquent appeal to broad American values; and in part on his channeling of Reagan, which is built on a genuine respect for the last "transformative" president -- a respect that conservatives can sense. At the same time, the promise of a new politics is wrapped around a frankly liberal, untriangulated policy platform that, if passed, will counter the tides of income inequality and risk transfer from the community to the individual.
Back in January, Obama found a way to shut down the Clinton attack machine without getting into the gutter. He bought himself two months, during which time he became the frontrunner. Now that desperation has led Hillary to a more deeply malicious and misleading set of attacks, I believe he'll find a way to stymie her once again. "Virginity" is a snidely charged way of casting what he stands to lose. I believe that he will highlight Clinton's weaknesses without losing his integrity.
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