Hillary Clinton has been called to task by many for the new lows in attacks she and her campaign have chosen to use against Barack Obama.

No doubt about it: it’s gotten ugly. She has opened the door to baiting Obama on race, religion and patriotism. These are all well-known Republican tactics against Democrats and independents. Clinton’s choice to “go there” is shortsighted at best. It will only make it an easier White House run for GOP Bush-endorsed nominee John McCain.

When Clinton declared that she and McCain were the only two with experience to be commander-in-chief, it was like telling Obama, possibly the first African American president, that he can’t join the “club.” In that moment, not only were there racial overtones, but she also did the unthinkable by siding with the Democrats’ rival against Obama.

With this and her “3 a.m.” ad she managed to shift the election debate from the war in Iraq, economic recession and health care to national security. Very dangerous ground indeed.

Every time Democrats try to “out Republican” Republicans on national security and foreign policy they lose.

A winning conversation on these topics has to reject the ideology of preemption, military-might-makes-right and unilateralism and project common-sense peace strategies. Obama has shown vision on this front, including on ridding the world of nuclear weapons and diplomacy without preconditions. But Clinton’s moves have opened the door wide for the Republicans to come rushing in and paint Obama as “weak” on national security. And if Clinton gets the nomination, she’ll never be able to out-hawk McCain and may lose trying.

What the average voter wants — Democrats, independents and even many Republicans — is an end to the tyranny of the Bush administration and GOP hawk and pro-corporate policies.

Injecting racism and anti-Muslim bigotry will only fuel the divisions that the sizeable electoral movement around the Democrats, and Obama in particular, seeks to overcome. Unity among all in the anti-Bush/McCain electoral coalition is a must to win in November. Unity — and a reason to vote. Nobody should have a reason to sit it out this November. And the Democratic candidate shouldn’t give them one.