Ganging Up

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 31, 2007; 10:41 AM

Barack Obama was getting all kinds of advice from pundits and bloggers heading into last night's Brian Williams/Tim Russert debate, and the gist of it is:

Attack Hillary. Slam her. Beat her. Whack her with a frying pan. Kick her. Whip her. You do want to be president, don't you?

Commentators are geniuses, as we all know, and much smarter than campaign managers. So they must be right about this. Of course, if it backfires, and Obama is seen as abandoning his high-road appeal and becoming just another attack-dog pol, they will be the first to criticize him for that, too.

Not coincidentally, the media benefit if Clinton-Obama turns into a slugfest, because reporters would much rather write about punches thrown and blows landed than polite exchanges on Social Security.

I'll come back to all the advice-giving in a moment, but first, some thoughts on the MSNBC debate:

Brian Williams asked Obama to attack Hillary with the very first question, citing his comments to the NYT that he intended to step up the rhetoric.

"Some of this stuff gets overhyped," Obama replied, although he had done the hyping in that interview.

Obama proceeded to accuse Clinton of changing her position on NAFTA, torture and the war, but in polite language.

Clinton's response? Touting her record of opposing President Bush's "failed policies" and ignoring Obama's criticism.

Tim Russert then handed the club to John Edwards, citing a release in which he accused Clinton of "doubletalk." Edwards accused her of defending a corrupt system and wanting to keep combat troops in Iraq.

Her response? Defending her 35-year record of fighting special interests on behalf of women and children, and ignoring Edwards's criticism.

Later, Williams asked Hillary about Rudy's criticism that she's never run anything. She again recited her record and noted the "perverse" nature of "the Republicans and their continuing obsession with me."

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