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Obama, Man Of Substance

As I write this, MSNBC is peeking in live at a Barack Obama rally in Mississippi. They're apparently hoping he'll speak to this "dream ticket" question--i.e., what he thinks about Hillary Clinton's suggestion that they run together, presumably with Obama as the vice presidential candidate. It's the topic that the talking heads on MSNBC--like the talking heads everywhere else--have been discussing for the last hour or so.  

So far, Obama isn't obliging. Instead, he's talking about (cue snoozing producers and reporters) substance, like how he would use government money on infrastructure spending, how he'd offer financial assistance to senior citiznes, etc.  MSNBC, predictably, has relegated Obama to a small split screen shot in the corner, while two more pundits chew over this dream ticket issue. Oops, now he's off screen altogether. It's just the pundits talking.

Fine, fine.  Cable news networks have a lot of airtime to fill and I'm not going to gripe because they dared to give policy second shrift. But this is a reminder about the kind of campaign Obama has been running--and how it runs contrary to some of the stereotypes about him. 

A lot of writers--including, uh, me--have taken him to task for not putting a sufficiently strong emphasis on bread-and-butter policy issues. And to the extent he wasn't emphasizing policy in his spotlight moments--like, say, his nationally televised speeches after big primary wins--I think it has been a real problem with his candidacy.

But part of the issue here is the nature of media coverage. In fairness to Obama, he has talked a great deal about policy in this race, going all the way back to the early months when his still ill-defined campaign seemd like a longshot and Hillary Clinton was famously inevitable. But ever since Obama became a campaign phenomenon, that phenomenon--not his policy ideas--has inevitably dominated coverage.   

Again, none of this is to say Obama couldn't do a better job hitting bread-and-butter themes in ways that will resonate with working class voters--like, say, the ones in Ohio that voted overwhelmingly for Clinton a week ago. But the emerging campaign narrative that Obama lacks substantive mettle clearly goes too far.

Update: Naturally, as I finish this item, MSNBC breaks into coverage as Obama responds to Clinton's dream ticket argument. And, for what it's worth, he's doing a great job.  He started by noting that he has won more states, more delegates, and more popular votes--and wondering how somebody in second place could offer the second slot on the ticket. Then, after acknowledging the election was not over and expressing respect for Clinton's tenacity, he made the case that he's the one with the best experience and judgment. "You have to make a choice in this election. Are you going to go along with the past or go to the future? Are you going to do the same old thing? Or try something new?"  

--Jonathan Cohn