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That Only Works If You Are Blameless

After a weekend of horrible press and an appearance by Hillary Clinton at Compassion Forum where she zapped him in words that would make Karl Rove grin (“Someone goes to a closed-door fund-raiser in San Francisco and makes comments that do seem elitist, out of touch and, frankly, patronizing.”), Barack Obama seems poised to go forward with a well-worn tactic: trying to counterpunch and throw the press off their target (him) by attacking his opponent.

Sunday night Obama declared Hillary Clinton “should know better” and labeled her “shameless.” The obvious retort: so? (Sure, she is capitalizing on his error – because his blunder was giant, ugly and easily understood.)

Clinton’s spokesman replied more expansively:

“Sen. Clinton does know better — she knows better than to condescend and talk down to voters like Senator Obama did. Senator Obama’s outburst won’t change the fact that he has embraced his characterization of the millions of Americans who live in small towns.”

Today Obama continues that gambit in a speech, once again only admitting that his choice of words was clumsy and attacking Hillary Clinton and John McCain as the ones out of touch on economics.

You see, Obama’s ploy only works when a candidate doesn’t have a problem of his own with the voters. (This poll suggests he does.) Here, Obama’s problem is not an issue of comparison with Clinton (e.g. who is holier than thou on trade or who is worse on defending the Second Amendment), but rather his own rapport with Pennsylvania voters. She didn’t call them irrational gun-toting, Bible thumpers; he did. ( And ridiculing her in personal terms risks getting those women voters in an uproar, just as he did with his “you’re likeable enoughbon mot.)

If voters are going to forgive and forget they won’t do it because Hillary is being Hillary. Obama’s got to make nice with them. But he seems unwilling to do that because, at bottom, he really doesn’t think he did anything wrong. This is becoming standard operating procedure for Obama. (Associate with a racist; lecture the country on racial unity. Insult a state; lecture us about the mindset of rural Americans.) Lots of lectures and changing the subject; never a full-throated apology.

In that debate this Wednesday when Hillary, as we know she will, asks him to apologize to the statement he will need to do better than “you’re a fake.” We’ve already heard that. For once, we’d like to hear about him.


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