Last week I watched with bemusement as Hardball's Chris Matthews and his gang of political "Hardballers" practically came unglued at the prospect of Barack Obama attacking Hillary Clinton in the latest of what seems like a never-ending number of debates.
Matthews: Tonight, will Barack Obama go after Hillary Clinton, or won't he?... He doesn't seem to know how to throw a Sunday punch... He better go after her. And, if he doesn't go after her, he has got to get out of the way, or he will get knocked out of the way... Norah [O'Donnell], it seems to me that—do you think that Obama has to take a shot at the—at the champion tonight?... until Barack Obama points at Hillary and say, she voted for the worst political decision in American history, to take our American Army into Arabia, she voted to approve that. She does not have good judgment...When is he going to point the finger at her and say, she was wrong on the biggest question of her life; she was dammed wrong?..When is he going to point the finger and say that?
Howard Fineman: But he's got to make enemies. He's got to be willing to make enemies... But he's worked himself into a situation here by waiting for others to take the argument to Hillary, to let Chris Dodd do it, to let John Edwards do it. He's been hanging back. He's dropping back in the polls, and somebody else is going to come forward to do it...
And on and on...
Now, I love hardball politics like a mofo and I love to see folks getting down and dirty when it comes to national politics and the crucial issues at hand. Hell, there are few out there better at that kind of bloody knuckles politics as Bill Clinton and I'd love to see someone go toe-to-toe with the Greatest, but playing politics is different from winning politics. Winning means exploiting weakness in your opponent and controlling the dialog. The lesson from LBJ's pigfucker tactic was to control the conversation, not react to it.
ABC's Rick Klein apparently sees the same thing.
"As embodied in the title of his book, Audacity of Hope, his candidacy has cultivated an 'Obama brand' that's built on the broad promise of an end to politics as usual -- which means eschewing the withering attacks that often punctuate campaigns," said Klein.
Barrack Obama is blowing the doors off of fundraising—not just in terms of sheer dollars, but in the width of his appeal—and much of that is based on the image he's promoted as being an agent of change.
As Klein put it, "the strategy is showing signs of working, as evidenced by his campaign's almost $20 million fund-raising haul over the past quarter, and the more than 20,000 people he draw to an appearance last week in New York City -- in Clinton's political backyard."
Now, every candidate campaigning in the shadow of the disastrous Bush years is campaigning on change (except John McCain, and look where he is), but people do want to see their man put his money where his mouth is. Barack Obama has campaigned on a positive message and that seems to ring with a lot of people.
The strategy is showing signs of working, as evidenced by his campaign's almost $20 million fund-raising haul over the past quarter, and the more than 20,000 people he draw to an appearance last week in New York City -- in Clinton's political backyard.
That doesn't mean he can't play hardball and expose the weaknesses of his opponents. Quite the contrary with Clinton. The term Clinton-fatigue was more than a clever Rove-ism that took hold in the media and left Slick Willie's VP no choice but to run away from a legacy of unprecedented economic growth and relative peace in the homeland. Belying Clinton's personal charm is his penchant for taking opponents out at the knees. Bush's compassionate conservatism evaporated as soon as the Twin Towers came down. That kind of politics may make for great spectator sport but it turns off the ever fractured and dwindling swing voters who make or break elections these days. Barack Obama seems to realize that and seems to be scooping up those disillusioned voters (and their dollars) by the thousands. Why would he change now?