Rookie Mistakes Plague Obama By: Mike Allen March 26, 2007 07:51 PM EST Speaking early this month at a church in Selma, Ala., Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) said: "I'm in Washington. I see what's going on. I see those powers and principalities have snuck back in there, that they're writing the energy bills and the drug laws." It was a fine populist riff calculated to appeal to Democratic audiences as Obama seeks his party's presidential nomination. But not only did Obama vote for the Senate's big energy bill in 2005, he also put out a press release bragging about its provisions, and his Senate Web site carries a news article about the vote headlined, "Senate energy bill contains goodies for Illinois." The press release said he voted for the bill "reluctantly" because he wanted something "bolder," and his staff says there was nothing inconsistent about the comment in Selma. While trivial, the remark is the sort of throwaway line that can trip up a candidate in the heat of a national campaign, and it shows the challenge the young senator will face in coming days as his words are dissected and scrutinized with fresh intensity. Obama's gift with language -- his powerful speaking style and the graceful prose and compelling story of his best-selling memoir -- has been an engine of his dramatic, high-velocity rise in presidential politics. But he has also shown a tendency toward seemingly minor contradictions and rhetorical slips that serve as reminders that he is still a newcomer to national politics. For the first time, Obama is on a stage where small mistakes can have disproportionately large consequences. The Republican National Committee, working in league with Bush operatives, exploited similar blunders -- sometimes misleadingly -- to portray the last two Democratic presidential nominees, Al Gore and John F. Kerry, as inconsistent or hypocritical in ways that savaged both men's reputations. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's aides portray her as more skilled in controlling her words and public image than either Gore or Kerry and more deft in fighting back against Republican attacks. It is this surplus of political experience, her team believes, that could also prove decisive against Obama. Asked about imprecise or incomplete statements by Obama over the years, campaign press secretary Bill Burton said, "Outside the Beltway, Americans get that this campaign is about having the vision to transform our nation. Inside the Beltway, snarky cynicism has a way of overcoming the real choices at stake in this race." So far, the senator's rhetorical miscues have been more curiosities than obvious political blunders. For instance, some of Obama's campaign rhetoric has turned out to have strange echoes of lines that John Edwards used in his 2004 campaign. And the senator inadvertently raised questions among some pro-Israel Jewish Democrats, who he is courting aggressively, when he said in an interview with the Des Moines Register that "nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people." Some of the turbulence Obama, 45, has encountered is familiar to most first-time presidential candidates, who learn that every word is being watched and that, on topics such as the Middle East, any deviation from standard rhetorical formulas will cause a big stir. But in Obama's case, the presidential campaign hazing is complicated by 442 pages of words from his own pen. "Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance" was written in 1995, when Obama was giving little thought to the political implications of his life story. The words sat barely noticed for almost a decade, then blossomed into a best-seller after Obama's masterly 2004 speech to the Democratic National Convention. Now they are being read by journalists with intense scrutiny. On Sunday, the Chicago Tribune reported that an extensive search found no basis for an episode Obama recounts about a picture he ran across in Life magazine of a "black man who had tried to peel off his skin" in a failed effort to use chemicals to lighten it. Obama writes that "seeing that article was violent for me, an ambush attack." The Tribune reported: "Yet no such Life issue exists, according to historians at the magazine. No such photos, no such article. When asked about the discrepancy, Obama said in a recent interview, 'It might have been an Ebony or it might have been ... who knows what it was?' (At the request of the Tribune, archivists at Ebony searched their catalogue of past articles, none of which matched what Obama recalled.)" The article, based on 40 interviews and travel to Hawaii and Indonesia, asserts: "Several of his oft-recited stories may not have happened in the way he has recounted them. Some seem to make Obama look better in the retelling, others appear to exaggerate his outward struggles over issues of race, or simply skim over some of the most painful, private moments of his life." Obama's campaign expects more efforts to undermine the book's claims, but his advisers say they will contend that he has inoculated himself with an unusual disclaimer in the introduction: "For the sake of compression, some of the characters that appear are composites of people that I've known, and some events appear out of precise chronology. With the exception of my family and a handful of public figures, the names of most characters have been changed for the sake of their privacy." In the sort of unsparing observation that dots the book, Obama also noted "the dangers inherent in any autobiographical work: the temptation to color events in ways favorable to the writer, â¦ selective lapses of memory." Obama's more recent words are undergoing similar study, including lines that parallel rhetoric Edwards used in 2004. In some cases, it is standard political white noise like creating "a new kind of politics" -- a signature phrase of Obama's that Edwards used three years ago. In the candidates' announcement speeches, the parallel was even more striking. "I know that I haven't spent a lot of time learning the ways of Washington," Obama said as he launched his campaign last month, "but I've been there long enough to know that the ways of Washington must change." That carries a distinct echo of a line in Edwards' announcement speech in 2003: "I haven't spent most of my life in politics, which most of you know, but I've spent enough time in Washington to know how much we need to change Washington." As another example, consider Obama's stirring tale for the Selma audience about how he had been conceived by his parents, Barack Obama Sr. and Ann Dunham, because they had been inspired by the fervor following the "Bloody Sunday" voting rights demonstration that was commemorated March 4. "There was something stirring across the country because of what happened in Selma, Ala.," he said, "because some folks are willing to march across a bridge. So they got together and Barack Obama Jr. was born. So don't tell me I don't have a claim on Selma, Ala. Don't tell me I'm not coming home to Selma, Ala." Obama was born in 1961, and the Selma march occurred four years later, in 1965. The New York Times reported that when the senator was asked about the discrepancy later that day, he clarified: "I meant the whole civil rights movement." Join The Conversation (read all 77 comments) You need to be a registered user of Politico.com to "join the conversation". If you are not a member yet, what are you waiting for? Register Now! by kman23 on 03.26.2007 at 11:55 PM This article is absurd. He mentioned a wrong article!! How does that compare in any way to the mistkaes of HRC (too many to list), Giuliani (nobody before 9/11, 3 marriages, treated ex-wives like ****, doesn't talk to kid), or McCain (pandering to the same people he correctly stated were ruining the Republican party)?! And for all those who say Obama has no chance... look at the numbers. IA he's in 3rd, yes and NH 2nd. However SC he's right with HRC, Cali he's winnning, Texas he's 2 behind HRC, Florida hes 3 behind, IL he's obviously winning, PA hes in 2nd, NY in 2nd (and closing), MA he's in 2nd, MI he's winning. He can win every big state and in a general election, against a non-christian republican (Romney or Guiliani) or a republican hated by the base (McCain) Obama could easily take southern states with high African American percentages, take the religios vote or keep them home, play in every big state. Is it likely? Who knows? But he can win it all. REPORT ABUSE by ConcernedVoter on 03.26.2007 at 11:23 PM Continuation (too many characters) The $2.3 million raised Sunday was from a fundraiser hosted by Bill's best friend. I put that $2.3 million in Bill's kitty. Every other candidate is out there asking on their own behalf and the money they raise is because the donors like them and want them to be their next president. What can she do for herself? You have to ask the question, if she weren't married to Bill would she still be viewed as a credible candidate? The other candidates have to rest on their own knowledge, skills, likeability and accomplishments - can she? Who believes she could raise this kind of money on her own? The latest Zogby poll said 51% of all men would not vote for her under any circumstance and 42% of women said the same thing. If she wins will it be by 50 votes causing another divided government and citizenry?