Monday, March 10, 2008

Clinton and Obama: The message vs. the messenger

Last night we had dinner with a friend who is an ardent Obama supporter. We had a great discussion on politics in general, but I was struck by one aspect of our discussion. Knowing that Unnamed Partner and I are Clinton supporters, our friend asked "why?" Fair enough. I said that although I don't think Hillary Clinton is perfect, I think she is the best qualified candidate out there right now.

Now if our friend is reading this, I hope she doesn't mind that I'm writing about my reflections on our conversation. But driving home, I found that I was struck by how defensive it seemed she became when I said that I thought Clinton was better qualified. I found myself repeating to her that yes, I think Obama is extremely bright, yes, he has great ideas, but I just don't think he has the skills yet to be president. But it seemed that our friend viewed this as an attack on Obama.

Then, this morning I was going to write about Hillary Clinton's speech in Wyoming where she talked about her green energy initiative. I decided to look at each of their energy plans by researching their websites (see, I do research -- it's not all off the top of my head!). And I found a very interesting difference -- not in substance, but in delivery.

Clinton's plan is presented thusly:
Hillary's plan to promote energy independence, address global warming, and transform our economy includes:
  • A new cap-and-trade program that auctions 100 percent of permits alongside investments to move us on the path towards energy independence;
  • An aggressive comprehensive energy efficiency agenda to reduce electricity consumption 20 percent from projected levels by 2020 by changing the way utilities do business, catalyzing a green building industry, enacting strict appliance efficiency standards, and phasing out incandescent light bulbs;
  • A $50 billion Strategic Energy Fund, paid for in part by oil companies, to fund investments in alternative energy. The SEF will finance one-third of the $150 billon ten-year investment in a new energy future contained in this plan;
Whereas Obama's plan says this:
  • Obama will develop domestic incentives that reward forest owners, farmers, and ranchers when they plant trees, restore grasslands, or undertake farming practices that capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
  • Obama will double science and research funding for clean energy projects including those that make use of our biomass, solar and wind resources.
  • Obama will establish a federal investment program to help manufacturing centers modernize and Americans learn the new skills they need to produce green products.
Do you notice the subtle difference? "Clinton's plan includes ..." versus "Obama will ...." Without parsing sentences here, I think there is a striking difference between the way these plans are presented to their supporters. And I think it explains Obama's appeal to many young people and others who feel disgusted with politics. Obama will do this? Great! I was not aware that the president had the authority to do any of these things on his/her own, but Obama will do it!

If you compare their two plans, there is very little difference in substance. The difference in the presentation of their ideas is, I believe, an indication of -- again, my main problem with him as a candidate -- their experience. Hillary Clinton would not say "I will establish ...." because she knows she must work with Congress to get any initiative done. Barack Obama says "I will establish ..." because he knows that will excite the American people.

Once again, it comes down to delivery -- even on their websites. I encourage anyone who is still on the fence about these two candidates to think about how they present their case. Who seems to have a better handle on getting things done in Washington? I think Hillary Clinton has the clear advantage in this vital skill, no matter how well Barack Obama packages his message. I'll repeat: I think Barack Obama is extremely smart, and I think he has great ideas. My concern with him as president is that I worry that maybe his greatest skill at this point is his ability to sell his ideas. Once we buy them, then what?


Mauigirl said...

Very interesting - especially because Obama is usually cited as being about "us" rather than "I."

Clinton's plan is also very detailed, I admit.

I like the idea of getting rid of incandescent light bulbs - they've already done this in Australia!

Sue J said...

Yeah, it just feels odd coming from him. It makes me worry that some voters might think he would have more power as president than is constitutionally possible.

But, I have officially turned into the world's biggest cynic this campaign, so maybe I'm over-analyzing?

phil_in_ny said...

I agree sue, they get a little insane when you mention support for hillary. To bad though.

We're all liberals and want the same things.

donald said...

well, bush has taken the power of the presidency to a whole new level, so maybe obama can...

i am with you, let's let this thing play out and hope the democrats don't implode beating each others brains out, and work like hell to make sure mccain does not get into the white house.