Monday, July 02, 2007

Clinton-Obama: Sound Bites and Bucks

Barack Obama won the fund-raising contest for the past quarter, but Hillary Clinton “won” the Democratic debate Thursday night and holds a big lead in the polls.

In the coming months, we may be seeing a contest of “new politics” that isn’t quite what analysts have been predicting. Their demographic newness is obvious--first woman President, first of color--but Clinton and Obama bring deeper divides than their half-a-generation age difference to the Party and national table.

Sen. Clinton has been winning debates the old-fashioned way with carefully prepared images and sound bites: “The American village has failed our children” and “If HIV/AIDS were the leading cause of death of white women between the ages of 25 and 34, there would be an outraged outcry in this country.” Cheers and applause.

Obama has been criticized for lagging in the sound-bite battle, but that may be a matter of choice. He seems more intent on creating a framework for his candidacy than scoring points and is sometimes telling voters what they may not be eager to hear.

Thursday night he noted that “it is absolutely critical for us to recognize that there are going to be responsibilities on the part of African-Americans and other groups to take personal responsibility to rise up out of the problems that we face.”

On AIDS, he said “one of the things we’ve got to overcome is a stigma that still exists in our communities. We don’t talk about this. We don’t talk about it in the schools. Sometimes we don’t talk about it in the churches. It has been an aspect of sometimes homophobia that we don’t address this issue as clearly as it needs to be.

“(A)ll the issues we talk about--the problems of poverty, lack of health care, lack of educational opportunity--are all interconnected. And to some degree, the African-American community is weakened. It has a disease to its immune system. When we are impoverished, when people don’t have jobs, they are more likely to be afflicted not just with AIDS but with substance abuse problems, with guns in the streets. And so it is important for us to look at the whole body here...”

That kind of talk will not draw applause from African-American audiences any more than some of Obama’s analyses of problems like health care are getting from others.

But for the longer haul, cheers may be beside the point. At the moment, supporters are voting with their money--258,000 of them in the past quarter giving $32.5 million. Unlike Clinton, Obama has a long way to go in getting Americans to know him. So far, many of them like what they see and hear.

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