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Portrait in Cynicism: Hillary Attacks Obama from Every Angle

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Hillary Clinton has apparently decided on which lines of attack to use against Barack Obama in New Hampshire: all of them.

When it started, Clinton's poll-tested candidacy came down to telling voters, "Whatever you like, that's what I am."

But it turns out that, so far, what voters like is Obama. So now her sputtering campaign strategy has shifted to telling voters, "Whatever you don't like, that's what Obama is."

Clinton and her surrogates are attacking from every direction, hoping something will stick.

The attacks are as varied as they are contemptible. Let's take a look at the dirty laundry list. Put on your galoshes, the mud is mighty thick.

1. Obama is too liberal. HuffPost's Tom Edsall reports: "Hillary's aides point to Obama's extremely progressive record as a community organizer, state senator and candidate for Congress, his alliances with 'left-wing' intellectuals in Chicago's Hyde Park community, and his liberal voting record on criminal defendants' rights as subjects for examination."

Dear God, not "left-wing intellectuals"! Aren't you grateful Hillary warned us in time? The last thing voters in a Democratic primary want is someone with a "liberal voting record." Apparently, Mark Penn is still advising the campaign.

2. Obama is too conservative. In a sleazy direct mail letter sent to New Hampshire voters, Clinton tried to twist Obama's record on abortion, saying he has been "unwilling to take a stand on choice."

Really? Tell that to Planned Parenthood and NARAL, both of which have given Obama 100 percent ratings for his support of abortion rights. I asked NARAL about this mailing. "We are fortunate to have such strong pro-choice candidates like Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, as well as former Sen. John Edwards and Gov. Bill Richardson, running for president," Elizabeth Shipp, NARAL's political director emailed me. "We are confident that any one of these candidates would protect and defend a woman's right to choose, if elected president." *

3. Obama is soft on crime. Hillary's staffers, trying to play up the "too liberal" meme, pointed out that Obama had spoken out against mandatory minimum sentences for federal crimes, saying: "Mandatory minimums take too much discretion away from judges."

How dare he! Imagine a Democrat -- an African American Democrat, at that -- expressing dissatisfaction with the injustice of a system that disproportionately impacts young people of color. It's apostasy!

What makes this dunderheaded attack especially despicable is that Hillary has taken the exact same position on mandatory minimums. During this summer's debate at Morgan State University, moderated Tavis Smiley, Hillary had this to say about what needs to be done to mitigate the disproportionate number of African American serving prison time in America: "We have to go after mandatory minimums. You know, mandatory sentences for certain violent crimes may be appropriate, but it has been too widely used. And it is [having] now a discriminatory impact." Unbelievable. The hypocrisy is flabbergasting.

4. Obama lacks depth and specificity. You knew this one was coming. "On a lot of these issues it is hard to know where he stands, and people need to ask that," said Clinton on Friday. And on Good Morning America today, she trotted out a cobweb-covered one-liner from 1984: "As famously was said years ago, 'Where's the beef?'"

Perfect. Twenty-four years ago, Walter Mondale and the Democratic establishment used that zinger and that line of attack to go after Gary Hart. Mondale ended up being the nominee and carried just one state in the general election. Is that what Hillary thinks we should sign up for again?

5. Obama is a dreamer. That's right, Clinton is actually trying to convince voters that Obama is too positive, too optimistic, too inspirational. In a speech she called him "an untested man who offers false hope," and in Saturday's debate she said, "We don't need to be raising the false hopes of our country about what can be delivered."

Oh, yeah, that's the last thing we need, someone who actually seeks to inspire Americans to allow their reach to exceed their grasp. That's the problem with leaders like Lincoln, Kennedy, and Martin Luther King -- they just weren't realistic enough. King shouldn't have said, "I have a dream!," he should have said, "I have a realistic view of what we should settle for! We probably won't be able to pass the Civil Rights Act, but we might be able to pass a bill condemning segregated water fountains. You probably won't be able to sit at the front of the bus, but I might be able to get you to the middle."

This is who Hillary Clinton is, through and through. "I have always tried to strike a balance," she said in 2004. "I think you have to view the world as it is, not as you would wish it to be." That's a long, dispiriting way from Bobby Kennedy's "Some men see things as they are and ask, 'Why?' I dream of things that never were and ask, 'Why not?'"

6. Obama is too big a risk for America. That's right, Clinton is again taking a page from the Bush fearmongering playbook -- insinuating very bad things could happen if we don't elect her. "Look what happened in Great Britain," she said. "Tony Blair leaves, Gordon Brown comes in, the very next day, there are terrorist attacks... So you've got to be prepared on Day One with everything ready to go." It's a sequel to her husband's Roll the Dice -- which, in itself, was a sequel to the entire Bush/Cheney reelection campaign.

So the New Hampshire race is now officially too close to call, Hillary's hypocrisy running neck and neck with her cynicism. Be very afraid, indeed.

* UPDATE: Ted Miller from NARAL contacted me to tell me that they are calling 82,000 pro-choice Independent voters in New Hampshire with a message from NARAL president Nancy Keenan: "All the Democratic candidates running for president are pro-choice and will support and defend a woman's right to choose."