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Smearfest 2008 Begins

Websites reserved exclusively for opponent-bashing come into vogue this week.

Those heady days of Dems campaigning based on principles of fair-minded togetherness are officially at an end. Not only have democratic primary candidates begun to tear each other to pieces, they're keeping score in the form of detailed blow-by-blow websites dedicated exclusively to chronicling each other's slights and failings.

But it's not fair to say that all candidates are getting fierce. So far, I've only seen sludge-shoveling URLs from the Clinton and Obama camps. I guess strategists have decided it's time that at least one of these front-runners takes a serious dive. After all, if one succeeds in seriously ousting the other, the champion will come out of the primaries that much stronger, right?

Erm. Maybe campaigners should take a minute to consider this perspective on changing courses (a.k.a. getting nasty) midstream.

Clinton's mudslinging site is called, modestly as ever, “The Fact Hub.” There, curious voters can get the 'facts' on which candidates are shifting, double-talking, overpromising, underpromising, waffling, or wobbling on the issues.

The site is well-designed enough to make me think that the Clinton campaign has been planning this offensive strike for some time. The left-hand column of the page is devoted to detailed blog posts not unlike those found on Daily Kos. The posts quote the follies and missteps of rivals, particularly Obama, interspersed with a bit of gentle guidance on how to properly 'read' these quotations.

The right-hand column is reserved for videos and posts assuring voters that there is, of course, an alternative: the one, the only, Hillary Clinton.

The overall design of the site is different enough, visually, to distance itself from the Clinton homepage, favoring a black and burgundy color scheme in contrast to the navy and cherry red of other Clinton web and print designs.

Most interestingly, “The Fact Hub,” stays away from any adherence to classically patriotic design conventions. Clearly, the Clinton camp does not want its cutthroat tactics – however factual – mixed in the same bowl with its apple pie politics.

Obama's virtual siege tower, on the other hand, makes no effort to design away from the style of its major base of operations. And this is probably because Obama's site is presented overall as a defense system. The site is subtly titled “Hillary Attacks,” making the point that the campaign feels put upon not by other Dem candidates as a whole, but by one assailant, in particular.

Obama has thus far been reluctant to fire back at Clinton, clearly taking the stance that the best defense is a thoroughly disdainful offense. “Hillary Attacks” is mostly a news aggregation site, collecting clips of Clinton attacks and reactions from the media into a litany of wrongs done.

The layout is very similar to “The Fact Hub,” except that it is even more focused on Hillary than is Hillary's own site. The left-hand column is devoted to clips from news sources covering the feud, while the right-hand column focuses on videos and quotes from Clinton that illustrate her perceived hypocrisy.

The result of this layout is that while it looks like an Obama site, it certainly doesn't refer to him or his policies in any way, thereby ideologically distancing itself from Obama. In this way, the Obama campaign is able to backhandedly retaliate against Clinton, without setting Obama himself up as a man with a chip on his shoulder.

However, the more you look at these websites, the sillier they seem. The 'fact' is that neither candidate has actually done anything wrong. They're both great candidates, and they'd both probably make great Presidents. They're nitpicking each other, pointing out tiny human failings that the best of us are guilty of. Unfortunately, the only resolution to this online boxing match is that they both come out looking childish and unstable.

Our noble electoral process

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