michael tackett

It must be getting a little claustrophobic in Sen. Barack Obama’s Ivory Tower.

He’s living in that place where he wants to talk about hope and change and all that good stuff in those speeches that attract people by the tens of thousands.

Sure, some “bitter” people might be “clinging” to their guns and God while Obama keeps clinging to the idea that he can win the Democratic nomination without meeting Sen. Hillary Clinton on the low road.

It’s not getting any easier.

Those pesky things we like to call issues — the war in Iraq, the economy, health care — have been sideshows of late in this longest-running of primary campaigns.

When was the last time either Clinton or Obama made a point of a major policy difference?

Maybe there just are not enough hours in the day. Not when you can talk about things that are sure to divide if your goal is to conquer.

And, be sure, that is the Clinton goal in this race. The math just doesn’t work for her in terms of pledged delegates or states won or even the popular vote. So the real play is to destroy the Obama candidacy or to hang in long enough on the chance he destroys it himself.

For some reason, Obama refuses to call Clinton out on, well, Clintonism.

You don’t see from Obama, for instance, any reprise of Clinton’s speech about being under sniper fire in Bosnia when that clearly was not true.

Look closely at the key elements of her answer to that question from Pennsylvanian Tom Rooney during the debate in Philadelphia.

“Well, Tom, I can tell you that I may be a lot of things, but I’m not dumb. And I wrote about going to Bosnia in my book in 2004. I laid it all out there. And you’re right. On a couple of occasions in the last weeks I just said some things that weren’t in keeping with what I knew to be the case and what I had written about in my book. And, you know, I’m embarrassed by it. I have apologized for it. I’ve said it was a mistake. ... I have talked about this and written about it. And then, unfortunately, on a few occasions I was not as accurate as I have been in the past. ... And I have said that, you know, it just didn’t jibe with what I had written about and knew to be the truth.”

The brilliance of this answer, truncated here for space and italics added for emphasis, is that Clinton never utters a sound bite that can later be used against her as uttering a knowing lie.

Also, you don’t see Obama hammer the Clintons for being Clintons when they now are arguing that vote totals in Michigan and Florida should count.

Here is what former Clinton campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle said in a statement issued Sept. 1: “We believe Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina play a unique and special role in the nominating process.

“And we believe the DNC’s rules and its calendar provide the necessary structure to respect and honor that role.

“Thus, we will be signing the pledge to adhere to the DNC-approved nominating calendar.”

Not a lot of ambiguity there. All the major candidates agreed to not campaign in Michigan and Florida. But somehow, Clinton still had her name put on the ballot in Michigan and held a “victory” party after the results had been counted in Florida. And now she wants to count the totals in both states to make the case that Obama doesn’t have the lead in the popular vote.

You don’t even see Obama challenging the former president on playing the “race card,” an issue that reached a new level of contortion in the final days before the Pennsylvania primary.

In an interview on WHYY radio, Bill Clinton said of the Obama campaign, “I think that they played the race card on me. And we now know from memos on the campaign and everything that they planned to do it all along.”

A day later, when Clinton was asked what he meant, he, with legendary finger-wagging, responded, “No, no, no. That’s not what I said. You always follow me around and play these little games.”

The Clintons are masters of the game for a reason. They are brilliant, focused, and they always know their goal. They know that politics is not a nice business, and they have no problem calibrating tactics to meet the moment.

If they know, for instance, that rural voters might be the last to feel comfortable voting for a black candidate, then Bill Clinton is quite willing to park himself in rural areas and talk about the race card being played on him, with a wink to all those Bubbas whose bias might need a little reinforcement.

Obama’s campaign, which has at least a couple of seasoned gunfighters, might be punching walls behind closed doors because these rejoinders are the lowest of low-hanging fruit. But their strategy got them this far, and they seem unlikely to change.

Michael Tackett is the Washington bureau chief for the Chicago Tribune. A native of Anderson, he began his journalism career at the Anderson Daily Bulletin. Readers may send him e-mail at mtackett@tribune.com.

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