Obama Gets Tough. Too Little, Too Late?

10/13/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

For all that's right and good about Barack Obama, he suffers from the same fatal flaws that have afflicted most Democratic presidential nominees over the last thirty-two years: he is both a gentleman, and a scholar. Fine attributes if you're applying for the job of headmaster at some patrician New England Boy's School. But they don't get you elected to the highest office in the land. Just ask Mondale or Dukakis or Gore or Kerry. All stood idly by like guys respectfully waiting for a fresh pour at a wine bar while they were mocked, maligned, denigrated and Swiftboated from contention by agents of the other side.

Obama has been no better. Since the day he tossed his hat into the ring he has been hit up with vicious innuendo and outright lies regarding his heritage, his patriotism, and his religion. And in almost every circumstance his denials have been tepid when not simply nonexistent. Contrast that with the entire Republican machine (aided and abetted by the media) getting "outraged" by the "lipstick on a pig" line.

Meanwhile Georgia Rep. Lynn Westmoreland calling the Obamas "uppity" -- a slur that is one more downed beer away from being nigger -- barely got a register out of the left. In response Obama could have legitimately said, echoing the words from his acceptance speech; "this uppity smear is not about me, it's about you, the people. And this is what the Right thinks about you: if you're different, even if you work hard, do good and put yourself through the best of schools and achieve, you're still uppity for thinking you deserve a seat at the table." In other words, hit 'em where they live.

But when asked about the uppity remark by MSNBC's Keith Olbermann, Obama punted on second and one with: "I am confident that, the American people, once the dust is settled, will ask themselves, do we really want to do the same thing we've been doing for the last eight years, or do we want something new?"


With pushback like that Obama oughta be looking to play cribbage this November with the guys at the assisted living home for Democrats.


Except that Obama had himself a siddown with Bill Clinton -- one of two Democrats elected president in the last three decades and the only one re-elected. Re-elected because among his attributes Clinton knows how to get tough. He is not afraid to go "there;" to say or do what's gotta be said or done to blunt the other guy. And despite Lewinsky and impeachment by the House of Representatives, alleged scandals and conspiracies and nontroversies, Clinton left office with an approval rating of 65%. Some people don't want Clinton anywhere near the Obama campaign. They think Bill (and Hillary, too) are "too political." Well, it's politics. If you're getting your computer fixed nobody ever says: "don't go to that guy, he's too techy." Why would you not want to align yourself with somebody who knows how to get away with throwing some elbows? And from the pants down spanking Clinton gave Fox's Chris Wallace, to the digs he got in on Obama during the primary, clearly the man's still got political game.

So, Obama making the pilgrimage to Clinton's Harlem office (I'm sorry, did somebody order a big, steaming plate of irony?) is an open acknowledgment from Team Obama that they need to bring out the BFG of Democratic politics. Though I don't think polls are the end all/be all, Obama's softening numbers indicate it's time to do...something. Especially with that crazy Hail Sarah ball McCain tossed up looking like it might just make it into the end zone. Her deer-in-headlights responses to questions about the Bush Doctrine notwithstanding.

Supposedly, Obama's been holding back until after 9/11 to go into attack mode. At least, that's what's been reported with the Sturm und Drang of a belated call to arms for a reluctant warrior. But now that he's seemingly ready to go to battle -- and has enlisted the enemy of his enemy to do so -- Obama supporters had best hope the fight hasn't already passed their man by.

I'll be back with more of the Conservative Palinguage next week.