It's been the toughest week of the toughest month for the Obama campaign. And, at least for the moment, the media pendulum has swung in the other direction. Fawning over Obama has largely given way to questioning his experience, patriotism, and judgment -- mostly due to the incendiary words of Rev. Jeremiah Wright, a man over whom Obama has no actual control.
Meanwhile, Hillary and her supporters continue to argue that the race isn't over; that Florida and Michigan votes must be counted; that superdelegates have to exercise their own judgment about who's more electable. Of course Michigan's delegates can't be seated -- Obama's name wasn't even on the ballot. But the public debate plays right into Hillary's hands. It places the issue on the agenda and makes it seem like a political toss-up instead of a question the Democratic party's rules have already settled.
In the midst of all this, Obama risks being overrun by events. He's got to seize the initiative and regain control of his message. The first thing to do is take a page out of Hillary's own playbook: assume the air of inevitability. Don't publicly engage her in a tit-for-tat on how delegate decisions and Florida and Michigan should play out.
It would be a big mistake for Obama to get dragged into the quagmire of Convention rulemaking: A political knife fight is the only way, given the math, that Hillary can actually win this thing. Obama has to rise above the noise of the delegates and his former pastor and shift the focus from political nuts and bolts to legislative nuts and bolts. It's time for him to pick an issue that Americans care about, introduce a bill on the Senate floor, and talk about nothing else.
And I don't mean speaking about broad visions, or our desire for change. Americans already know that Obama has the vision. They know he's a great orator. Obama must take back his message with a serious discussion about serious issues that really matter. And he should talk about nothing else until the media cries "uncle" and forces itself to start writing again about substantive things.
One issue that can shift the focus away from Convention politicking: the creeping food crisis. Prices of basic staples like wheat, rice, and corn are skyrocketing. Combined with record fuel costs for transport, the price of food has risen an incredible 41% from last October. The impact of more expensive food is widespread; it squeezes every family in America and around the world. And the poor, who spend a higher proportion of their income on food, are hit the hardest. But the candidates are barely talking about this. If Obama wants to set the agenda and beat back the accusation that he's "out of touch," he can start by honing in on the original bread and butter issue.
And to hammer home the point, he should address the American people not from Indiana or North Carolina, but from the Senate floor. Sometimes it's easy, in the maelstrom of the campaign, to forget that Barack Obama is actually a sitting United States senator. With new questions swirling about Obama's judgment and experience, he should moor himself to the Senate chamber's somber gentility.
But whether it's food prices or something else people can sink their teeth into, Obama needs to get back to basics, wrestling himself out of campaign mode and into policymaking. People like what they see in Obama when he's talking on his own terms. It's time to move past the political distractions, where Hillary can only gain on him.