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Say what you will about the contest to see which presidential candidate (and which presidential candidate’s wife) is more patriotic. At least it managed to knock Bill Clinton back out of the headlines. The economy, the war, fuel prices, none of that stands much of a chance of seeing much airtime anyway between now and November.

I nearly fell down laughing when I heard someone on CNN talk about how the patriotism debate switched the topic of most news away from the economy, etc., an alleged switch that apparently benefits John McCain. I just don’t remember hearing much about those other issues. But I do recall heated exchanges over the motives and whereabouts of Bill Clinton in the aftermath of the Democratic primary.

I can’t quite understand the media’s fascination with the Clinton-Obama story line. Well, no. I can, given the obvious drama. But it seems that health care, the housing crisis, the war in Iraq all offer plenty of drama, too. They’re just more complicated and require a little more digging outside the beltway. Just don’t expect anyone to pick up a shovel.

In the meantime, I suspect Barack Obama is going to start taking a real beating from the netroots, given his penchant for announcements like this and this. But I suspect the campaign must believe it will help Obama appear more centrist if he is consistently under attack from the left. After all, the same strategy works for McCain, only with attacks coming from the right.

Obama’s decision to spurn public financing and the resulting storm, I first put down as some inside-the-beltway issue that wouldn’t much resonate. But the more I think about it, the more I think he made a mistake there. You don’t jettison systems or principles you supposedly believe in just because they’re inconvenient. Isn’t that the lesson of the last seven-plus years?

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Here’s my prediction on domestic drilling: Republicans will equate support for the idea with patriotism. Any deviation from the line (such as that coming from Barack Obama) will be portrayed as unpatriotic, thereby sparing us from any sort of rational debate.

The sexual overtones probably don’t hurt either. What true American man isn’t in favor of drilling! Here! Now! So not only is it a test of patriotism. It’s also a test of virility, what every great presidential campaign should be about!

At any rate, you can already see this line of attack coming together if you pay attention to the talking heads. I also noticed this comment from a woman quoted in the Harrisburg Patriot-News:

“I’m a red-blooded American,” Newton said. “I say drill away.”

Just wait. Someone will start selling American-flag lapel pins shaped like oil derricks with little gushers spewing out the top. Here’s the 14-karat gold version:

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