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One of the underlying arguments in favor of Hillary Clinton is that she will be harder for the so-called “right-wing attack machine” to steamroll. But what if they threw an election and the attack machine stayed home?

John McCain is unlikely to repeat or tolerate the tactics of Bush/Rove. First, he was a victim in 2000. Second, he seems genuinely not to care for that kind of politics. It might be a personal predilection, but it also might be the result of his Senate service. The US Senate is a clubby kind of place and I don’t see McCain relishing attacks against a fellow senator, be it Clinton or Barack Obama.

Third, angry attacks risk having him look like a grumpy old man rather than a doting grandpa (putting the Wilford Brimley endorsement into context). Only the latter can peel away some of the youth vote. (Note also how the front-page story in yesterday’s New York TImes serves two purposes: McCain looks more sympathetic on the war, but he also looks younger — young enough to have a son in his early 20s).

Of course, some on the right will be trying to tear down either Democratic candidate however they can. No one seems able to muzzle Ann Coulter. I just believe (or want to believe – perhaps it’s a utopian fantasy) that McCain will make stronger stands against that sort of thing than George W. Bush ever did. That might be one reason Rush Limbaugh is still queasy.

Democrats shouldn’t try to fight the last war, especially since they lost. McCain just may kill them with kindness.

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Barack Obama is banking on the country being ready to put division behind it. But I suspect this will be a particularly divisive election year, even more so than in the past.

There is plenty to unite us, from the war to the collapsing economy. But the suffering — lost homes, lost jobs, lost lives — hasn’t been enough to bring people together for a common cause, no matter what that cause might be.

What really divides us are the solutions to all of these problems, and it isn’t clear that we’re willing to coalesce around one particular fix for any of them.

Not that Americans need much reason to be divided. We had little apparent cause to argue with each other in 2000 yet somehow ended up with a very polarizing presidency.

People just disagree on politics, not always for rational reasons. No amount of economic or military disaster is going to change that. Indeed, if disasters provoked logical responses derived from a careful reading of the evidence, human beings certainly would have learned a bit more how to handle them by now.

Change is what every candidate is promising this year. Fortunately, for every one of them, change won’t be so hard to deliver after election day. Things change regardless of whether we lift a finger.

And what pol can avoid taking credit for whatever positive changes occur on his/her watch and ruing the negative? Besides, the right amount of spin can make any change look positive. You’re working longer and harder than ever? Welcome to the productivity revolution that is driving the US economy! Housing in a slump? It’s a great time to buy!

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