WASHINGTON -- Elections can be about policy, personality or identity. The race between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton is surely not about policy. The differences between the two are microscopic.
It did not start out that way. Last year, when Hillary was headed toward a coronation, she deliberately ran to the center. She took more moderate views on Iraq, for example, and voted to designate Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization.
When she began taking heat for these positions from the other candidates and the Democratic Party's activist core, and as her early lead began to erode, she quickly tacked left and found herself inhabiting precisely the same ideological space as Obama.
With no substantive differences left, the Obama-Clinton campaign was reduced to personality and identity. Not advantageous ground for Hillary. In a personality contest with the charismatic young phenom, she loses in a landslide.
What to do? First, adjust your own persona. Hence that New Hampshire tear and an occasional strategic show of vulnerability to soften her image. It worked for a while, but personality remakes are simply too difficult to pull off for someone as ingrained in the national consciousness as Clinton.
If you cannot successfully pretty yourself, dirty the other guy. Hence the relentless attacks designed to redefine Obama and take him down to the level of ordinary mortals, i.e. Hillary's. Thus the contrived shock on the part of the Clinton campaign that an Obama economic adviser would tell the Canadians not to pay too much attention to Obama's anti-NAFTA populism or that Samantha Power would tell the BBC not to pay too much attention to Obama's current withdrawal plans for Iraq.
The attack line writes itself: Says one thing and means another. So much for the man of new politics. Just an ordinary politician -- like Hillary.
That same maladroit foreign policy adviser is caught calling Hillary a monster. A resignation demand nicely calls attention to the fact that the Obama campaign -- surprise! -- hurls invective. And a strategic mention of Tony Rezko, the Chicago fixer who was once Obama's patron, nicely attaches to Obama a whiff of corruption by association.
These attacks have a cumulative effect. Obama mania is beginning to wear off. Charisma is intrinsically transient. But Hillary's attacks have succeeded in hastening its dissipation.
So if there are no policy issues between them and the personality differences have been whittled down, what's left? Identity. Race, age and gender. Is this campaign about anything else?
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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