As we near North Carolina and Indiana, Obama is finally speaking out strongly against Reverend Jeremiah Wright, but unfortunately, like John Kerry before him, seems to have little idea of how to respond convincingly to aggressive tactics. Obama is still ahead and the math is still on his side, but...there is a growing sense that Hillary may somehow be able to pull this off. Dorothy Wickenden in a "Talk" piece in this week's New Yorker echoes what I've been saying on my blog--and in my book, Anything for A Vote--about the 1988 election setting the tone for twenty years worth of negative campaigning, but she and I draw different conclusions. Hillary, she believes, is stripping the bark from Barack Obama, just as Lee Atwater, Republican hit man, promised to "strip the bark from that little bastard [Michael Dukakis] and make Willie Horton his running mate."
I don't believe Hillary's actions are anywhere near as offensive as Atwater's--I don't think she has yet claimed, for instance, that Barack would release serial killers from jail if elected. Secondly, Atwater's tactics worked. Despite Wickenden's assertion that the "civility" of Barack Obama and John McCain has "lifted them above the pack," I believe that Hillary, still growling and frothing, has a definite shot at this just because she is so ready to mud-wrestle. But, as I wrote the other day, we haven't gotten anywhere near 1988-level election nastiness--1988 was the year we were letting go of Ronald Reagan and finding out it wasn't "morning in America," after all. The level of anger was very, very high--much more so than now, even with Iraq and the economy.
However, I do long for a few George H.W. Bushisms like “I stand for anti-bigotry, anti-Semitism and anti-racism” or “I’m going to make sure that everyone who has a job, wants a job.” Hillary, Barack, John--they're just too well-spoken these days....even when they're insulting each other.