In victory speech, Obama hits Clintons

At first, Barack Obama looked as if he'd be conciliatory after his win in South Carolina, but his victory message featured a thinly veiled attack on Clinton campaign tactics.

Published January 27, 2008 2:40AM (EST)

If anyone expected Barack Obama to be warm and fuzzy after his landslide win in South Carolina's Democratic primary, they would have been in for a surprise watching his victory speech Saturday night. Though the Illinois senator -- who was, in earlier months, criticized for being unwilling to go strongly on the offensive against Hillary Clinton -- sounded initially as if he might offer a conciliatory message following the battles of this past week, he quickly launched into a scathing attack that made clear exactly who he was targeting, even without naming names.

At first, it seemed as if he'd be targeting the Bush administration. "As contentious as this campaign may get, we have to remember that this is a contest for the Democratic nomination, and that all of us share an abiding desire to end the disastrous policies of the current administration," Obama said, and then he made a deft turn, switching from Bush to Hillary Clinton in a way surely designed to encourage voters to make a connection between the two. "But there are real differences between the candidates," Obama said. "We are looking for more than just a change of party in the White House. We're looking to fundamentally change the status quo in Washington. It's a status quo that extends beyond any particular party, and right now that status quo is fighting back with everything it's got, with the same old tactics that divide and distract us from solving the problems people face."

If there were any lingering doubts over who Obama was speaking about, he made it clear moments later, saying, "We're up against the conventional thinking that says your ability to lead as president comes from longevity in Washington or proximity to the White House" -- and here there were boos from the crowd. He continued, "We're up against the idea that it's acceptable to say anything and do anything to win an election. But we know that this is exactly what's wrong with our politics; this is why people don't believe what their leaders say anymore."

But of course, a candidate who revels in being tagged a "hope-monger" wouldn't make a speech solely about attacks. Obama didn't leave behind his message of change, or of bringing the country together. And, at his speech's end, Obama brought down the house with that message. "Yes, we can heal this nation," he said. "Yes, we can seize our future ... Out of many, we are one ... while we breathe, we will hope, and where we are met with cynicism and doubt and fear and those who tell us that we can't, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of the American people in three simple words: 'Yes, we can.'"

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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