By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 4, 2007
Sen. Barack Obama leveled a fresh round of criticism at Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton yesterday, accusing his rival for the Democratic nomination of following a campaign plan that prizes calculation over candor and that is aimed more at winning the election than uniting the country.
Obama used a speech in Spartanburg, S.C., to sharpen his differences with the Democratic front-runner and to frame the choices before voters a year ahead of the 2008 election. Calling the senator from New York "a colleague and a friend," Obama nonetheless cast Clinton as representative of a style of politics that has been better for the politicians than the country.
Obama, who represents Illinois, described Clinton as a skilled politician running a textbook campaign but said the textbook itself is badly flawed and skewed against ordinary Americans. "It's a textbook that's all about winning elections but says nothing about how to bring the country together to solve problems," he said.
Obama pointed to last week's debate in Philadelphia, in which he, former senator John Edwards of North Carolina and Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut all challenged Clinton for being equivocal or engaging in political doubletalk, as emblematic of Clinton's strategy.
"As we saw in the debate last week, it encourages vague, calculated answers to suit the politics of the moment, instead of clear, consistent principles about how you would lead America," he said. "It teaches you that you can promise progress for everyday people while striking a bargain with the very special interests who crowd them out."
In a telephone interview, Obama described Clinton's campaign as one that embraces the conventional wisdom of Washington, which he said argues that candidates "should be vague and avoid definitive answers in campaigns, in part to make yourself a smaller target to Republican attacks. . . . She has mastered that in this primary."
He called Tuesday's debate "Exhibit A" in what he was describing. "There was just an unwillingness on Senator Clinton's part to provide clear answers on pretty important issues," he said during the interview. "What I saw was an effort to position oneself so as not to offend or give Republicans any ammunition, and I understand that. But it's very hard, then, to make the claim that you're then going to be a significant agent of change."
Clinton's campaign has accused Obama of trading the politics of hope for a series of negative attacks. Obama responded by saying, "I think it would be hard to argue that we are engaging in negative campaigning when we're making a basic argument about why I'd be the best candidate, and show the differences that we have not just on policy but on our approach to leadership."
As Obama was campaigning in South Carolina, two of his leading supporters in Iowa released a letter calling on Clinton to expedite the release of thousands of pages of documents from her husband's presidential library that bear on her activities during his two terms in the White House.
"Throughout this campaign, you have repeatedly emphasized your experience as First Lady," wrote Tom Miller, the Iowa attorney general, and Lu Barron, a Linn County supervisor. "However, by refusing to authorize an expedited release of the records from your time in Washington, you are preventing the Iowa voters from thoroughly reviewing that experience."
Although Clinton was Obama's immediate target yesterday, his speech contained far harsher criticism of President Bush, who he said had delivered seven years of broken promises. "This catastrophic failure of leadership has led us to a moment where it's not just Democrats who are listening to what we have to say, but independents and Republicans who have never been more disillusioned with what the state of our leadership in Washington has done to this country," he said.
But in calling for Americans to turn the page on the Bush years, Obama also warned Democrats that a Clinton nomination could plunge the country back into the kind of political warfare that raged during her husband's administration.
"I am in this race because I don't want to see us spend the next year re-fighting the Washington battles of the 1990s," he said. "I don't want to pit blue America against red America. I want to lead a United States of America. I don't want this election to be about the past, because if it's about the future, we all win."
Edwards also spent yesterday in South Carolina, the only state where he won in the 2004 primaries. He said Tuesday's debate provided a clear choice for Democratic voters. "From my perspective, the choices are between the status quo and change, and we need change in the worst kind of way in America," he said, according to an Associated Press report.