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The Left Jab Needs Some Work
10-31-2007
For anyone tuning into last night’s Democratic presidential debate hoping to see Barack Obama close the gap with Hillary Clinton by aggressively attacking her, it should now be abundantly clear that it is just not going to happen that way. Obama seems genuinely uncomfortable with the task of throwing political punches as a means of drawing sharp distinctions with Clinton. Supporters will no doubt argue that Obama’s cool demeanor will better serve him in the long run, but given the premise recently set by his own campaign, Obama simply did not frame the choice between himself and Hillary Clinton as explicitly as needed.
 
The Obama campaign will soldier on with its message of change, but it is John Edwards who has, in several debates now, firmly established himself as the candidate most likely to take on a status quo politics embodied by the Clintons and the Bushes. Time and again last night, Edwards defined the choice between himself and Clinton in stark terms, much as I am sure he did for juries during his years as a successful trial lawyer. This style of political engagement may not appeal to some voters, particularly those who prefer Obama’s more measured approach, but it will certainly keep Edwards relevant to the Democratic political discourse into the primaries.
 
Finally, viewers may have noticed that Hillary Clinton has developed an interesting coping mechanism for dealing with the onslaught of criticism directed at her as the frontrunner. Clinton typically argues that whatever the issue – Iraq, healthcare, taxes – President Bush will leave the problem to his successor, thereby requiring her to carefully gauge the political context for policy change early in her first term, before actually offering any firm recommendations. While there is some logic to this argument, it sometimes leaves Clinton looking evasive at the podium, and may be an increasingly difficult strategy to sustain over time, as she is relentlessly pressed for specifics by her opponents.


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