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Does Barack Obama need more passion in talking economics?

August 18, 2008 |  4:40 pm

Barack Obama and his aides will dispute that he isn't paying enough attention to the issue that long ago eclipsed Iraq as uppermost on voters' minds -- the economy.

The Obama folks can note that just today, he convened a session with voters in Albuquerque where, as framed by an advance campaign memo, he discussed equal pay and promoted his plan "to provide economic security for America’s working women."Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama focused on the economy while campaigning in Albuquerque

Later, at a town hall meeting in the same city, The Times' Seema Mehta reports from the trail that Obama pressed his critique that working-class and middle-class Americans have suffered under President Bush’s administration -- while the wealthy have prospered -- and that the election of John McCain would merely continue that trend.

All well and good. But New York Times columnist Paul Krugman (who's also an economics professor at Princeton University) today gave voice to a rising worry among many hard-core Democrats who find it hard to believe their party's presumptive presidential nominee is not benefiting more from pervasive money and job worries in households throughout America.

Obama's problem, Krugman writes provocatively, "isn’t lack of specifics — it’s lack of passion. When it comes to the economy, Mr. Obama’s campaign seems oddly lethargic."

Indeed, we were struck by Obama's failure to hammer home talking points on the economy during his Saturday quizzing by Rick Warren at the Saddleback Church. It would not have been easy -- Warren's focus was not on bread-and-butter matters.

But there were opportunities, as when the evangelical pastor asked him to explain why he wants to be president. Obama summed up by stressing his "ability to build bridges across partisan lines, racial [and] regional lines to get people to work on some common-sense solutions to critical issues."

That was an effective message early in this oh-so-lengthy campaign; it was, in many ways, the core of Obama's appeal. But for many -- especially those feeling economically pinched -- it's probably become a stale note.

It was a famed "laser-like" focus on the economy that enabled the 1992 Democratic nominee whose resume was lacking on the foreign affairs front to capture the White House. So where is Bill Clinton, now that Obama and his strategists really could use some guidance on how to more effectively convey that they feel people's pocketbook pain?

Perhaps still sulking, even as he prepares for a spotlighted speech at the Democratic National Convention in Denver next week. “Clearly his wounds are deeper than I thought,” one-time White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta says of his former boss in a Times of London article over the weekend.

-- Don Frederick

Photo credit: Bloomberg News