John Kerry, in contrast, seemed to extemporize anew each day (and possibly at each stop during a day). If there was a steady message from the Kerry campaign to cover, the press could not possibly have found it. I couldn’t.
Obama is (mercifully) not this bad. Indeed, he is charismatic, articulate to a fault, and brilliant. However, the initial inability to come up with a clean, simple account of the “bitter” remarks and to then stick to it without variation became a problem. It contributed to keeping alive a problem that should have been quickly squelched. Intelligence is not enough. You have to make sure the media receives and reports the message.
Critically, at this juncture, Obama should never again be engaged in a debate with Rev. Wright. Wright diminishes himself further with every public appearance he makes. Obama’s outraged response to Wright’s comments this week at the National Press Club should be his final words on the matter. Wright will soon enough be a footnote in history texts. No serious contender for President of the United States should be spending any more time on him.
Weaknesses number three is that Obama needs to increase his credibility with working class whites. No one was more “to the manor born” than George Herbert Walker Bush. But, if “41,” Daddy Bush, can don lumberjack’s clothes and eat a bag of pork rinds with the ‘fellas’ in 1988, then the Senator from Illinois needs to start hanging out tie-less at some corn festivals in 2008, too.
Indeed, this is the moment to announce a major economic policy initiative or agenda aimed at addressing the real problems faced by working people, regardless of race, gender or religion. It is time to re-claim the agenda and to the set the frame for what the media reports. This time Clinton is right: another smooth speech from the early phase of the campaign is not enough.
Part of the reason the media runs with distractions like Rev. Wright in a long campaign is precisely because Obama has not silenced the worry that a significant fraction of white Democratic voters will not stand with him if even the flimsiest of “race cards” is played against him. A steady, direct, substantive, policy-oriented appeal to average working men and women is now a necessity for the Obama campaign.
The mantra of change is not enough for him to claim the allegiance of the superdelegates after June 3rd. It is time to explicitly and dramatically go after white working class voters, to exhibit a whole new level of campaign discipline regarding message (especially in response to negative attacks), and, perhaps, to remove whichever members of the current communications team seem unable to effectively help the media do their job. I for one am ready to see this campaign turn the page and regain the momentum.
Lawrence Bobo is the W. E. B. Du Bois Professor of Sociology and of African and African American Studies at Harvard University.