Obama is Finally Learning How to Play the Bloody Game


Ah shucks, no announcement yet on Barack Obama's veep choice? I am positively … underwhelmed.

I don't mean to imply that I'm apathetic about who Obama's choice (Joe Biden) might be. Naturally it's an important decision for the Democratic candidate, and of course the suspense (Joe Biden) is killing me.

But the real veepstakes drama is being played out on the GOP side: It is there that John McCain is rumored to be pondering an actual, honest-to-God, I-kid-you-not game-changer, perhaps with pro-choicer Tom Ridge, or even an 1864like fusion ticket with 'Democrat' Joe Lieberman. Should McCain choose one of them, then finally I would be, well … whelmed.

Until such time, however, what's capturing my interest is the apparent, strategic metamorphosis of Sen. Obama. It appears he thought long and hard during his Hawaii vacation about far more than a running mate. He concentrated, instead, on presidential elections past and their creeping similarity to today. He then wisely came to the conclusion that, against Republicans, the 'new politics' of gentility is tantamount to suicide.

Excellent, as Montgomery Burns would say.

I have no doubt that Obama suspected it would, in time, come to this, and I can guarantee you that his worldly advisers knew it all along, and with absolute certainty. They knew, that is, that the GOP has only one playbook, and in it there is only one play under the only alphabetical entry of "A": attack, attack, attack.

The Obama camp knew it was coming, you and I knew it was coming, for that matter everyone on this bloody planet knew it was coming, but Obama & Co. had hoped to forestall the inevitable counterattack-offensive until the general election's formal initiation. Well, to hell with the best laid plans, as Mr. Burns might also say.

Sunday, on the immediate heels of Saddleback's staged warmth and Obama's abysmal showing, the Democratic nominee started swinging, or at least jabbing: "McCain says 'Here's my plan, I'm going to drill here, drill now which is something he only came up with two months ago when he started looking at polling."

Even better, he fingered McCain's hitmen staffers as "the same old folks that brought you George W. Bush. The same team. They say this other guy is unpatriotic, or this guy likes French people…. They try to make it out like Democrats aren't tough enough, aren't macho enough. It's the same strategy."

Then, on Monday, Obama began intimating openly -- but only half-jokingly -- that the gloves are coming off. "Everywhere I go, people have told me, 'I'm getting nervous. The Republicans, they're so mean. They're going to Swift-boat you. They're doing things to you. What are you going to do?' I have to just remind people that it is true that, just as John McCain has embraced George Bush's policies, he's embraced his politics."

Then yesterday, before the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Obama then drew a chalk line, a fair-warning boundary for McCain announcing that further assaults on his "character and patriotism" will soon encounter a less kind, less gentle response: "I have never suggested and never will that Senator McCain picks his positions on national security based on politics or personal ambition. I have not suggested it because I believe that he genuinely wants to serve America's national interest. Now, it's time for him to acknowledge that I want to do the same."

And now, this morning, the New York Times reports (a tad belatedly, I might add), that "Senator Barack Obama has started a sustained and hard-hitting advertising campaign against Senator John McCain in states that will be vital this fall; … negative spots [that] reflect the sharper tone Mr. Obama has struck in recent days … and seem to address the anxiety among some Democrats that Mr. Obama has not answered a volley of attacks by Mr. McCain with enough force."

There's still a less than desirable element of asymmetrical warfare between Obama and McCain. The former is yet feeling his way into what for him is alien and unwanted territory: the old gangland-murder politics of "You hit us, so we hit you back." The latter, however, is all too empirically familiar with the value of a disorienting first strike, however gratuitously preemptive it might be.

The point here, though, is that Obama seems to be learning, and accepting, that he's no longer in school. American politics, he is finally gathering, hasn't ever and never will play out in a law-classroom setting of Socratic dialogue and enlightenment.

It is, rather, a blood sport -- a depraved, gladiatorial contest of soundbite stabs and visceral, 30-second shallowness. It is, simply, what 'the people' want, and pay for -- double entendre intended.

Jean-Louis Kayitenkore
Procurement Consultant
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