From the start, the biggest hazard for Barack Obama has been the inevitable “professionalization” of his campaign.
Obama came on the scene last year as a phenomenon, a “rock star” in the dopey shorthand of jaded political observers. Authenticity was his biggest asset, offering candor and thoughtful responses rather than sound bites as well as an attitude of respectful disagreement, even with the Bush Administration, rather than pugnacity. Obama’s avowed aim was to reject "the smallness of our politics" and "scoring cheap political points."
Early in the year, in the brouhaha over David Geffen’s calling the Clintons liars, the Clinton and Obama staffs started to mix it up, but Obama shut down the shouting match.
Maureen Dowd of the New York Times chided him: “I know you want to run a high-minded campaign, but do you worry that you might be putting yourself on a pedestal too much? Because people also want to see you mix it up a little. That’s how they judge how you’d be with Putin.”
“When I get into a tussle,” he answered, “I want it to be over something real, not something manufactured. If someone wants to get in an argument with me, let’s argue about how we’re going to fix the health care system or where we need to go on Iraq.”
Five months later, Obama is in a “manufactured” brawl after Hillary Clinton scored a rhetorical point in this week’s debate by making him seem too eager to meet adversarial heads of state without adequate preparation.
Instead of shrugging off her comments as too obvious to require rebuttal, Obama took the bait and is now in free fall off his pedestal. Today he accused Clinton of wanting to continue the "Bush doctrine" of only speaking to leaders of rogue nations who first meet conditions laid out by the U. S. and suggesting that being "trapped by a lot of received wisdom" led Congress, including Clinton, to authorize the war in Iraq.
Maureen Dowd and his more rabid admirers may be happy to see Obama on the attack, but the question arises of whether he is squandering his erstwhile uniqueness over a non-issue.
If he gets too far into “the smallness of our politics” and “scoring cheap political points,” what may be left is just another politician, and a not very experienced one at that.