Obama Attacks and Nobody Notices

clinton_obama_profile.jpg Here is my final thought on the Iowa Democratic Party’s Jefferson-Jackson Dinner that I liveblogged on Saturday night: Barack Obama finally went on the attack against Hillary Clinton and it didn’t seem to matter.

Clinton unveiled “Turn Up the Heat” as a new campaign slogan, but it was Obama who was committed to putting his chief rival through the fire, as he had been promising to do for many weeks. A few days prior to the speech, Obama told the press that Clinton was running a “textbook” campaign. Saturday he said, “The same old Washington textbook campaigns just won’t do in this election. Triangulating and poll-driven positions because we’re worried about what Mitt or Rudy might say about us, just won’t do.” Triangulating and polls, of course, are the Clintons’ forte.

On Saturday night the senator from Illinois said, “When I’m your nominee, my opponent won’t be able to say that I supported this war in Iraq; or that I gave George Bush the benefit of the doubt on Iran; or that I support that Bush-Cheney diplomacy of not talking to leaders we don’t like.” In the span of one long sentence, Obama attacked the frontrunner on Iraq and on Iran, and compared her foreign policy philosophy to Bush’s and Cheney’s.

Then there were the attacks on Clinton that bordered on the personal. For example, the statement, “I don’t want to spend the next year or the next four years re-fighting the same fights that we had in the 1990s.” Or the line, “I am not in this race to fulfill some long-held ambitions or because I believe it’s somehow owed to me.” (Full text here.)

But you’ll notice one thing: Hillary Clinton is never mentioned by name. Obama continues to observe the piece of campaign trail etiquette that keeps candidates from naming the subjects of their critiques. John Edwards has chosen to ignore that little brocard, and incidentally, is seen by many as the underdog currently drawing the sharpest contrasts between himself and Clinton.

Perhaps Obama needs to do the same if he hopes to be effective. After the speech, I asked an undecided voter who was leaning towards Obama what she thought of his attacks on Clinton. After a pause, she said, “I didn’t notice that at all. And I’m usually pretty sensitive to that sort of thing.” And when I asked the same question to a Clinton supporter standing nearby, she just stared at me blankly.

Later, I caught an Obama supporter outside an afterparty. “I don’t know if I would call them attacks,” he said of the lines above. “I think at this point in the game all three frontrunners are just trying to separate themselves.” I’m saying here that Obama will have to “turn up the heat” if he’s going to do that with any real results.


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