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Obama's aside hashed over

January 11, 2008 |  6:58 pm

For two days running, some nationally syndicated columnists have taken Barack Obama to task for a sentence he uttered -- not much commented on at the time -- during Saturday's night debate among the Democratic presidential candidates in New Hampshire.

So it goes when you lose a primary that had been virtually conceded to you.

Obama's gaffe -- which is how it's now widely perceived -- occurred when one of the debate questioners asked Hillary Clinton about her apparent "likability" problem with many voters. She responded deftly. Rather than take umbrage, as some might have anticipated, she coyly (and with a smile on her face) said, "Well, that hurts my feelings. But I'll try to go on."

She also acknowledged that Obama scores high on the likability charts, which is when he stumbled. "You're likable enough, Hillary," he interjected.

He later said his remark was meant as a "gesture of graciousness." But his delivery of the line was more churlish than friendly. As E.J. Dionne -- one of those commenting on the comment, following Tuesday's upset win by Clinton -- wrote: "Gestures of graciousness shouldn't have to be explained."

Dionne made only a brief reference ...

to Obama's aside in a column appearing Thursday, noting that "many saw it as snarky."

Count columnists Richard Cohen and Charles Krauthammer among those.

Cohen, reflecting on the moment in a piece appearing Thursday, termed it a "patronizing dismissal" of Clinton by Obama. He also opined that it "showed a side of Obama we had not seen and it might not have been characteristic."

Krauthammer, in a piece that appeared Friday, used similar phrasing as Cohen's -- though he didn't cut the candidate a break on whether the remark was in or out of character. He wrote simply that it "showed a side of (Obama) not seen before or since. And it wasn't pretty."

Cohen and Krauthammer each speculated that Obama's faux pas contributed to the burst in support from women voters that powered Clinton to victory in New Hampshire, that it joined with her now famed misty-eyed moment to spark that surge.

Who knows? But chances are Obama will resist the temptation to chime in unnecessarily in future debates.

-- Don Frederick

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