Obama Finally Gets Serious

After months of tap dancing, Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) has finally gotten serious about engaging Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) as the battle for the Democratic presidential nomination heats up.

In a long interview given to The Washington Post, Obama makes the point that he can do a better job of uniting the country than can Clinton. That seems obvious in that anyone could do a better job on that score. However, the issue of unity is a better general election theme than one to emphasize in a primary campaign. I seriously doubt if Democratic primary voters are going to cast their votes based on who can best bring the country together.

No, to beat Hillary, a formidable campaigner with an excellent organization and staff, Obama will have to come at her from the left, the right and the center — all at the same time. It’s a tough act to pull off, but he is capable of doing it. What, specifically, should he do?

First, and most importantly, he needs to come at her from the LEFT by emphasizing again and again their differences on the Iraq war. Obama has always been against it, then and now. Hillary? Well, who's really sure? Right now, she is thought by most Democrats to be the candidate best able to handle the Iraq issue. Obama must change that. Consider this: Can a senator who voted for the war in Iraq be the nominee of a party whose primary objection to President Bush is that he started the war in Iraq?

Second, he can come at her from the RIGHT, on values and culture. Hillary will always be seen as a culturally liberal feminist from Yale living in New York City. Obama should challenge her on cultural matters. He should demand tough action to bring hope to inner cities, blighted areas and the forgotten by being tough on criminals and drug abuse, demanding better school choices for minorities, and endorsing policies that reinforce strong families. He would separate himself at once from Edwards and Hillary, who routinely call for more social spending and Great Society programs.

Third, he can appeal to the CENTER by putting some meat on the bones of the “new politics” that he talks about. What exactly does that mean? A focus on citizen involvement in solving social problems and participation by the private and public sectors to bring opportunity to a whole new generation of young people — ideas that are at once attractive and non-ideological.

Hope, optimism and opportunity. Sound familiar? Two candidates named Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton did pretty well with them.