Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON -- Hillary Clinton has a problem with Barack Obama's speaking skills, which outshine her own plodding, wonkish, technocratic speeches.

At a time when our country is confronted by big issues and daunting challenges, the former first lady has been attacking the freshman senator for his superior oratory. Such is the trivialization of today's Democratic presidential campaign.

Intimidated by the apparent contrast between Obama's often-soaring campaign rhetoric and her flat, nuts-and-bolts speeches that tell us she is "ready to lead on day one," she has been ridiculing and belittling Obama's polemics -- a defensive campaign tactic that Democratic Party advisers say isn't smart and isn't working.

"Speeches don't put food on the table. Speeches don't fill up your tank, or fill your prescription, or do anything about that stack of bills," she said last week at a General Motors plant in Warren, Ohio. "My opponent gives speeches. I offer solutions."

It has become a staple theme in her stump speech that she repeats just about everywhere she goes in one form or another. "There's a difference between speeches and solutions, between talk and action," she said this week in Wisconsin.

Is this what the Democratic primary is about? Speech envy?

But party strategists, including some who are her supporters, tell me that her attack strategy is ineffective at best and self-defeating at worst because she seems to be admitting that her rival has better communication skills -- one of the chief requisites of an effective president.

"I don't think it's a smart attack, unless she can make the 'all talk, no accomplishments' charge stick. Clearly when good oratory is linked to action, it enhances the effectiveness of the action," said a key Democratic Party adviser who served in the Clinton White House.

"It's obviously not working. She seems to be belittling herself in the process," said another Democratic election strategist who did not want to be identified.

Government scholars seem to agree, saying that good speaking skills are important attributes in a president seeking to lift up a beleaguered nation, move it in another direction or build support for a reform agenda.

"The two most successful recent presidents are Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, who gave great speeches. They were really good at it, and that's one of the reasons they were successful," said Gregg Easterbrook, a governance-studies scholar at the Brookings Institution.

"One of the main things we remember about Abraham Lincoln is his oratory. We don't remember the details of a deal he cut with the House Ways and Means Committee, but we remember his speeches," Easterbrook told me.


Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.