Politics often creates strange bedfellows, but Barack Obama has managed to forge one of the oddest pairings ever. His campaign has sent such shock waves through the body politic that Bill and Hillary Clinton stand united against him with some of the staunchest soldiers of the conservative movement.
They come at him from different angles, but in their attacks on Obama, these sworn enemies increasingly sound like partners. They both describe Obama as something akin to the Wizard of Oz an inspiring speaker with no beef behind the curtain.
"My opponent gives speeches," Hillary Clinton said last week. "I offer solutions."
Bill Clinton used the same words the same day to knock his wife's opponent. "It's about whether you choose the power of solutions over the power of speeches," he said.
It's not news that the Clintons follow scripted talking points. What is surprising is that some conservatives sound as though they got the memo.
Likely GOP presidential nominee John McCain said Obama's speeches are "singularly lacking in specifics."
Larry Kudlow, an adviser to Ronald Reagan, wrote that, "Behind the charm and charisma is a big-government bureaucrat who would take us down the wrong economic road."
Charles Krauthammer, normally a scathing critic of the Clintons, wrote: "Obama has an astonishingly empty paper trail. He's going around issuing promissory notes on the future that he can't possibly redeem."
In one sense, the criticisms are fair. Obama doesn't have much experience and he has made such sweeping promises of change that it will be impossible for him to deliver all of them. Many of his young supporters may be shocked to discover that, if he's elected, the sun will rise in the East and war, pestilence and famine will not disappear.
Yet the chorus of criticisms misses the huge potential benefits of Obama's appeal and indeed why he has become such a phenomenon in the first place.
In amassing a large coalition of young and old, black and white Democrats, independents and some Republicans, Obama offers the possibility that America can finally get beyond its partisan stalemates. If that happened, a united nation would be better equipped to move forward on everything from the economy to the scourge of Islamic terror.
I say that because our polarization has become so acute that it is our most pressing problem. Solving it could open the door to other solutions. As it is, we are unable to muster a consensus on the time of day. The only thing that moved through Congress lately with bipartisan backing was the economic stimulus package. No surprise there all politicians love to give away money.
But no sooner had President Bush signed the package than the partisan rifts reemerged, this time over wiretapping and the baseball steroids hearings. Democrats went after Roger Clemens; Republicans defended him.
It's a pathetic spectacle, and Obama is the only Democrat who even talks about bridging those divides. That is the reason he has attracted such a diverse and enthusiastic following. Watch his speeches it's when he talks about unity that he gets his wildest response.
His coalition could dramatically change the dynamics of our politics. Start with the sheer number of new voters who have supported him, nearly doubling the turnout of four years ago.
Increased citizen involvement is the greatest threat to special interests. Brought together by a common purpose, new voters are unlikely to fall sway to the narrow focuses that have reduced politics to a board game of legal bribes for pols and paybacks for special interests.
And given that Obama has trumpeted his ability to work with Republicans and said nice things about Reagan, his supporters are less likely to be limited by partisan labels.
Whatever else her merits, Hillary Clinton cannot create a national consensus. Even she seems to accept that she would unite the Republican Party against her and harden the partisan divide.
In debates and speeches, she uses such phrases as "the Republican attack machine" and warns Obama will be "nibbled to death." She says she is best equipped to "withstand" attacks and brags she "took on" the drug companies. It is the language of conflict and division.
Is Obama promising more than he can deliver? Of course. Are some of his ideas wrong-headed? Yes again. But that doesn't distinguish him. What does make him different is that he is promising a broad common purpose. He might not be able to pull it off. But before we reject him, we ought to recognize what he's offering.