A Study in Contrasts: Dionne on Obama and Clinton

8 01 2008

E.J. Dionne has an interesting piece in the WaPo today on Obama and Clinton highlighting, among other things, their contrasting communication styles.

The Clinton campaign is rooted in the idea that “Experience Counts” — ironically enough, Richard Nixon’s slogan against John Kennedy in 1960. But it is Obama who may have precisely the right experience for the mood of the moment. As a community organizer early in his professional life, Obama understood his task as catalyzing citizens into building movements for change. Obama’s speeches are about citizen action, assembling coalitions, forcing change through popular demand.

I think Dionne captured a lot here. To me, this particular observation speaks to how whenever I am listening to Clinton I just feel as history started in 1992, encountered an awkward and terrible interruption in 2000 that will only end in January 20, 2009.

But with Obama I get the deeper sense that history moves backwards and forwards. In his speeches, Obama invokes echoes of the civil rights movement trying to reconcile itself with the present day, or even the history of our troubled founding as a nation and the grand possibility of overcoming it. And Obama emphasizes that its citizen action is a key and necessary ingredient to bringing about change.  That is to say, its our historical moment too, not just his.

Of course, its easy to overstate things here by projecting unrealistic hopes onto any one candidate. But I do think that the message and symbolism Obama’s current momentum warrants different kind of broader perspective than what can be capture in a run of the mill policy debate, though such debates are important too.

Obama to his credit has tapped into and embraced his historical moment. Clinton, by contrast, has shied away from recasting herself as a figure within a greater narrative of history… and it shows.

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