Vote for Me Because I'm Already Hated

You won't see that slogan on any bumper stickers but, bizarrely, it appears to be one of the top two or three talking points of the Clinton campaign. Here's what Senator Clinton had to say on Sunday on ABC's This Week:
I've been taking the incoming fire from Republicans for about sixteen years now, and I'm still here, because I have been vetted, I have been tested. There's not likely to be any new surprises. People understand who I am, where I'm from, what I believe in.
The suggestion, as George Stephanopoulos picked up in a follow-up question, was that Senator Obama has skeletons in his closet that will come out as a surprise in the general election. That seems quite implausible, however. If there were something with which Obama could be legitimately attacked, given the stakes, it's pretty clear that the Clinton campaign would have already made it known (through surrogates, of course). Thus, in response, Senator Clinton said that she was not saying that there was anything in particular to which she was alluding; she was merely noting that Obama's popularity would take a hit once he was attacked.

There's a certain logic to that. Hillary Clinton is better known to the public than Barack Obama, and if he gets the Democratic nomination, Republicans will almost certainly try to define him in a way that makes him less attractive. Indeed, they have already begun doing so, pointing out (correctly) that Obama's votes make him among the most liberal members of the Senate.

Yet pointing out that Obama is liberal is not really an "attack" in any meaningful sense, and you can be sure that Republican strategists who think that calling an opponent liberal is as good as calling that opponent a Communist or a pedophile will do the same thing to Clinton (who is, of course, considerably more liberal than Senator McCain). So what Clinton must mean---or what she would have to mean for this line of argument to make sense---is that Obama will lose popularity once he is unfairly smeared in the way that, she believes, she has been.

Maybe yes, maybe no. It worked with John Kerry and the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. But Kerry already came across as a bit of a careerist windbag. The obvious response to the claim that Obama may be rendered unpopular by unfair smears is that Clinton is ALREADY unpopular with large numbers of voters who should like her based on her policy positions. Hillary Clinton has endured 16 years of the vast right-wing conspiracy---a conspiracy abetted by her husband's inability to control his appetites---and suffered mightily as a result. With unfavorable ratings of 40 percent and higher, she comes into a general election with much work to do. It's possible that (fair and unfair) attacks on Obama could squeeze him in the same way, but at least there's a chance that they wouldn't.

Happy Super Duper Tuesday to all.

Posted by Mike Dorf