The challenge now facing Barack Obama in this race is to hit hard and low without seeming to. He'll need to counterpunch with class - not so softly he'll be ineffective, but not so hard that he'll muss his hair and ruin his appeal as a politician above politics.
It'll be a neat trick, maybe an impossible one. He's had the best of educations for it - both upscale Harvard Law and low-down Chicago politics. But how do you win a vicious campaign virtuously? How do you win a presidential nomination without tarnishing it in the process? How do you rip apart your opponent without ripping apart your party?
With each bitter primary, an increasing number of Democrats may believe what both their leading candidates say - about each other.
What started as a political race is becoming a combination grudge match and demolition derby. It'll go on until the usual ceremonial reconciliation at the end, when the contenders kiss and make up nice things to say about each other. But if this Democratic slugfest goes on much longer, the mutual flattery at that point is going to sound even less convincing than it usually does.
Primary by primary, round by round, the wounds open, and it won't be easy to suture them up before the Democrats' less than democratic national convention. That's when the superdelegates, the party's autocrats, will have to decide the issue.
Who said the brokered convention was dead? Only the brokers have changed. Instead of the traditional party bosses picking the winner in some smoked-filled room, the superdelegates will settle things in their own various, and maybe devious, ways. The more things change, the more they remain essentially the same. The smoke may be gone, but the mirrors remain.
Meanwhile, great issues remain to be explored - like the worldwide threat from a fanatical jihadism and how to counter it, and an economy rocking into a recession by some other, more polite name (downturn, slowdown). But where are the great leaders who'll treat those issues as something more than campaign fodder? Will we have to wait till this quadrennial circus is over before an appreciation of reality sets in like a hangover?
They say God looks after fools, drunkards and the United States of America. Let's hope so. But let's do more than hope. America will need to think. And act.
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