Obama on the Attack

OBAMA ON THE ATTACK….Barack Obama says he’s about to dial up his campaign a notch:

Senator Barack Obama said he would start confronting Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton more forcefully, asserting Friday that she had not been candid in describing her views on critical issues, as he tries to address mounting alarm among supporters that his lack of assertiveness has allowed her to dominate the presidential race.

….Asked if Mrs. Clinton had been fully truthful with voters about what she would do as president, Mr. Obama replied, “No.”

“I don’t think people know what her agenda exactly is,” Mr. Obama continued, citing Social Security, Iraq and Iran as issues on which she had not been fully forthcoming.

This is good, but I have my doubts that trying to be “clear with the American people” on these particular subjects is going to do the trick. As Obama says, Hillary Clinton is “very deft politically,” and I don’t think that’s going to change. We’ve already seen Obama try to get some mileage out of the rather narrow differences he has with Hillary over Social Security, Iraq and Iran, and there’s just no there there. There are differences, but they’re too small to build a campaign on.

What Obama needs is a brand new issue. If you’ve been following British politics for the past couple of months, you have an idea of what I’m talking about here. Up through the summer, prime minister Gordon Brown was riding high. The Labor Party was polling seven or eight points ahead of the Conservatives, and Labor’s prospects looked so bright that Brown was seriously thinking about calling for a snap election this fall.

But then a funny thing happened. Conservative leader David Cameron plucked a brand new issue out of nowhere (assuming you agree that a report of the “Competitive Challenge working group” counts as nowhere). In August he began calling for abolition of the inheritance tax for estates under one million British pounds, making the proposal official a month later at the annual party conference in Blackpool. The idea took off, catching Brown and the Labor Party off guard, and within a month the tables had been turned. Not only were the Conservatives polling higher than Labor, but plans for the election had been called off and the Labor chancellor was forced to respond with a lame me-too proposal (but with a cutoff of £600K instead of £1 million — bold!). Labor was entirely on the defensive.

I don’t know what kind of issue might have the same effect here, but Obama needs something like this. Continuing to hammer on the same issues he’s been talking about for the past six months, even if he does it more aggressively, isn’t likely to gain him more than a few points in the polls, and there’s just not enough time left for that to do him any good. Instead, he needs something that comes out of left field and blindsides Hillary. Something small, perhaps (Cameron’s inheritance tax proposal wasn’t really that big a deal), but with a lot of broad, symbolic appeal. Any ideas?