The Plank

Obama Pulls Up To The Kitchen Table

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A lot of people were watching the first segment in tonight's
Democratic debate to see how the candidates would talk about race.  But
it was an early reference to another subject entirely that
caught my attention.

It came in response to the very first question
from Brian Williams, when Barack Obama, describing the challenges facing
America, mentioned right away that "the economy is putting an enormous
strain on working families." 

That may sound like boilerplate
-- and, in another context, it would be.  All Democrats say things like that.  So do
most Republicans. 

But
I think the prominence of that statement has significance.  For all of
Obama's terrific rhetoric on the campaign trail, he hasn't done such a
terrific job of connecting his movement to results. As I've written
before, it's not enough simply to build a movement; you have to put
that movement to good use.  Too frequently, I've heard Obama mention
his policy goals -- whether it's fighting climate change, giving
everybody health insurance, whatever -- as an afterthought. 

But
that seems to have been changing in just the last few days.  (I noticed
the same thing in the transcript of a recent Obama conference call,
which unfortunately I can't track down this very second.)

That brings me to an excellent point Noam raised earlier in the day -- and the parallels with what's happening in the GOP race. Just as the struggling economy has played to Mitt Romney's strength,
so it has played to Hillary Clinton's, since she's the one really focussing on
policies rather than politics.  Obama has been promising to deliver a
new era of American politics, while Clinton has been promising to deliver better-paying jobs and health insurance. 

But
unlike McCain, who (I think) has a real problem now because economics
just isn't his thing, Obama is entirely capable of delivering a strong
policy message that speaks to people's financial anxiety.  It's
something he knows intuitively, and personally, from his time as a
community orgnaizer and representing low-income communities on the
South Side of Chicago.  And it's something for which he has actual
solutions, whether it's his proposals on college affordability, tax
reform, or making health care more affordable.

It's just a matter of framing the argument properly.  And lately, it seems, he has been doing that. 

--Jonathan Cohn

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