Senator Barack Obama's poll numbers are falling. On January 17th, a Rasmussen survey had him tied with Hillary Clinton among Democrats in a presidential preference poll. Two weeks later Senator Clinton was 14 points up on Senator Obama. Now that tells me two things. First, that Senator Obama did not effectively seize the day after the first round of gushing media coverage. He didn't get his message out to the folks. He avoided us and many other programs that he could have used to define himself.

And, second, these word controversies are actually hurting Obama. You will remember another presidential hopeful, Senator Joseph Biden (D-Delaware) said this:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You've got the first sort of mainstream African-American, who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, it's — that's a storybook, man.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

Now the word, "clean" cleaned Biden's clock. And it should have. Even though the senator meant no harm, you can't use the word "clean" to describe a person and not expect questions to be raised. That would be like saying an Irish guy like me was "sober." You don't think every Irish person in the world would say, "what!"?

Now Senator Obama didn't hammer Biden, showing real class. But the situation unsettled a lot of people. Then President Bush sat down with FNC's Neil Cavuto.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST, "YOUR WORLD WITH NEIL CAVUTO": How do you think the troops would feel about a President Obama?

BUSH: Oh, I don't know. He hasn't gotten elected yet. He hasn't even got the party's nomination. He is an attractive guy. He is articulate. I have been impressed with him when I've seen him in person. But he's got a long way to go to be president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

Yes, when I saw that, everybody in the newsroom saw it, nobody paid any attention. But the next day some African-Americans said using the word "articulate" was condescending to blacks. Again, the reaction on the part of many white people was, "What?" — We thought it was compliment.

The "articulate" debate demonstrates the divide that still exists between black and white America. And it is my belief that that kind of gulf does not help Barack Obama or any other black candidate. The No Spin truth is that some white people feel uneasy because they don't want to offend blacks and are confused by the divide, so they disengage.

For any politician to get elected to high office, there has to be a comfort level with the folks. So these controversies, even though not the fault of Senator Obama, have hurt him. They've also set back racial harmony a bit. I believe that's temporary — but it's there.

And that's "The Memo."

Most Ridiculous Item

The Colbert/O'Reilly legend continues. Last night our pal Steve was talking with a New York Times reporter:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, COMEDY CENTRAL'S "THE COLBERT REPORT": Where does the American man looking for his models — present company excepted — where does the American man look for his models these days? What about TV?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bill O'Reilly!

COLBERT: What?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm kidding.

COLBERT: Oh no, no. I'm with you completely! Poppa Bear is all man. Oh, absolutely.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He appeals to people.

COLBERT: You can cut O'Reilly open and count the layers of man.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

Ridiculous? Might be. Anybody cutting me open?

Before we get to the letters, a reminder. We would like to you vote on our billoreilly.com poll question: "Is 8 years old too young for a public school student to hear about homosexuality?" A controversy in New Jersey right now. Yes or no? We'll give you the results tomorrow.

—You can catch Bill O'Reilly's "Talking Points Memo" and "Most Ridiculous Item" weeknights at 8 and 11 p.m. ET on the FOX News Channel and any time on foxnews.com/oreilly. Send your comments to: oreilly@foxnews.com