January 24, 2008


[Hillary Clinton] is predicting that electing her Democratic rival, Barack Obama, will invite a terror attack because he has less experience than she has. If you wonder if you've heard that kind of argument before, you have. It has been a staple of hardball Republican politics for the past seven years: vote for the Democrats and the terrorists win.

But Clinton deftly purloined it for her own purposes, pivoting a classic Karl Rove tactic against one of her opponents ... Ever since the Clintons' near-death experience in the Iowa vote, their campaign has been playing a very Rovian game. The use of the politics of fear is just the start. In fact classic Rovian tactics are now at the heart of the Clinton campaign.

First, play to your base. Obama continues to appeal beyond core Democrats to independents and even a surprising number of disenchanted Republicans. Clinton decided, in response, to craft her appeal directly to core Democrats: public sector employees, the elderly, working women, the urban middle class. . .

Second, attack your opponent on his strong point ... Obama's biggest strength among Democrats is his early and clear opposition to the Iraq war. And so, following Rove's golden rule, Bill Clinton dismissed Obama's long opposition to the war as a "fairy tale". Because in 2004 Obama had refrained from criticising Kerry's pro-war vote, Clinton argued that Obama implicitly agreed with it. Because he had voted - like so many others - to continue funding the troops, Obama was no different than Hillary. It didn't work. But it was a classic Rove try.

Third, wedge issues. Rove's classic example was same-sex marriage; a way to pit one largely Democratic constituency - gays - against others, namely socially conservative white ethnics and blacks. Hillary Clinton's task in a Democratic primary is much trickier. But gender and race remain potent political tools for the unscrupulous. And she has used both.

Andrew Sullivan, Times, U.K.