Politics and the killer instinct

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The contrasting characters (this is not just a matter of "style") of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have been prominently on display since the Pennsylvania results came in. Her killer instinct is so much to the fore that it often seems to be her only instinct. It is both her greatest strength (she never quits) and her greatest weakness (she targets, rather than wishing to talk to, those she disagrees with). With Obama, the opposite seems true: his killer instinct seems not just suppressed but entirely absent. Again, this is both a strength (his appealing consensus-seeking temperament) and a weakness (he prefers to roll with the punches rather than striking back).

Today Hillary was telling an audience in Indiana that she now leads in the popular vote for the Democratic nomination. This is true only if you include both Florida and Michigan--where Obama was not even on the ballot. Her comments made no concession to this fact. She is ahead on the least plausible measure of the popular vote and behind on the others. No problem: that will serve. And here is another instance glimpsed today. She attacked Obama for allowing that John McCain would at least be a better president than George Bush. No, she insisted. McCain wants to stay in Iraq for 100 years: he is every bit as bad as Bush. Never give the enemy an inch, is her creed. In that single comment she attacked both Obama and McCain--unfairly, in both cases, but effectively.

Meanwhile, what was Obama saying? He was telling an audience in Indiana what a good race Hillary had fought in Pennsylvania, what a strong candidate she was, and how he had no doubt that the Democratic party would rally round whoever was nominated. This was beyond gracious: these were sentences from a concession speech. It required the New York Times, in its oddly splenetic editorial, to attack Hillary for fighting a negative campaign. (When they endorsed her, were they expecting the Clintons to take the high road?) Her actual opponent was far kinder.

If Hillary could give Obama some of her taste for the jugular--she has so much to spare--they would both be better candidates.

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Clive Crook is a senior editor of The Atlantic and a columnist for Bloomberg View. He was the Washington columnist for the Financial Times, and before that worked at The Economist for more than 20 years, including 11 years as deputy editor. Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics. More

Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics.

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