Senator Barack Obama’s triumph over Senator Clinton in the Democratic primaries will undoubtedly go down as one of the most shocking upsets in American electoral history. Obama, a dark horse (no pun intended) with no national track record, was able to beat the formidable Clinton machine because he was a phantom. He confounded his rivals because he provided little of substance for them to stick their swords into. Because he lacked a track record, he could switch directions easily without seeming incongruous. He was flexible, and could not be locked in or nailed down on anything.
Along comes Governor Palin, who, like Obama, is also an unknown. Like Obama, she has a razor thin track record on any issues of substance; and her appearance on the national stage came almost out of nowhere. Thus far, her very presence has sucked the air out of Obama’s sails. He finds himself at a loss for words, veering sharply off script into ad hominem attacks that are so very uncharacteristic of him. Yet he finds that Governor Palin is proving somewhat difficult to impale.
Meanwhile, Governor Palin has contented herself with making her points, and then stepping back with a confident smug. Thus far, she has stayed firmly on message. Borrowing a chapter from Obama’s play book, she has resisted the urge to respond to her detractors, refute the rumors, or even humor her critics in any way. Instead she has merely basked in the glow of her ascension, and allowed her charisma and charm to speak for itself.
How does Obama and Co. intend to beat this phantom menace? Or better yet, how would Obama fight the mirror image of himself? Some have suggested that the only way he can do this is by clearly defining Palin on his terms; that is, by throwing enough mud in her direction that it begins to stick. Yet, everything we know about Senator Obama thus far suggests that his greatest strength is defense and not offense. His acceptance speech before the Democratic convention, his most aggressive attack thus far on Senator McCain, was, at best, an attack from a defensive position. He attacked only, on issues over which he has been attacked (experience, love of country, etc.), but did not open up any new fronts in the battle. He did not thrust, but merely parried.