Monday, September 01, 2008

The Speech: Obama Makes the Grade

Yeah, we have all heard the reviews. I am collecting a few right now in this post. I think the only person to get it was Frank Rich from yesterday's New York Times, Obama Outwits the Bloviators:

On TV, each of these hot-air balloons was inflated nonstop right up to the moment they were punctured by reality, at which point the assembled bloviators once more expressed shock, shock at the unexpected denouement. They hadn’t been so surprised since they discovered that Obama was not too black to get white votes, not too white to win black votes, and not too inexperienced to thwart the inevitable triumph of the incomparably well-organized and well-financed Clinton machine.

Meanwhile, the candidate known as “No Drama Obama” because of his personal cool was stealthily hatching a drama of his own. As the various commentators pronounced the convention flat last week — too few McCain attacks on opening night, too “minimalist” a Hillary endorsement on Tuesday, and so forth — Obama held his cards to his chest backstage and built slowly, step by step, to his Thursday night climax. The dramatic arc was as meticulously calibrated as every Obama political strategy.

Rich might have had MSNBC in mind. What I heard on MSNBC was reviews of each speech and worries over what was not being done. What no noticed was that Michelle was the opening act and then the show spanned an arc ending with Senator Obama. Brilliant. For me, this signals that Obama is playing a different game than we are used to seeing. (Howard Kurtz has more pointed criticism of MSNBC in his At MSNBC, A Liberal Supply Of Sharp Elbows). The following from The Washington Post seems to be a bit lost to me:
The Message From Denver - washingtonpost.com:

"But in Barack Obama, the Democrats have a charismatic candidate well positioned to offer himself as a new-generation embodiment of change. The momentous accomplishment of his becoming the first African American presidential nominee -- one who barely edged out a candidate who would have been the first female nominee -- cannot be overstated. If many of the notes Mr. Obama sounded last night sounded familiar, that is neither surprising nor necessarily problematic. The economy is in significantly worse shape than it was four years ago; income inequality has grown; health-care costs have continued to soar; energy prices have risen; and the Bush administration has frittered away its chances to address the problems of global warming. And Mr. Obama's policy prescriptions go further on each of these fronts than did John F. Kerry's four years ago. He would cut taxes more for the middle class; go further to provide health insurance; and spend more on alternative energy sources while pursuing a cap-and-trade regime for greenhouse gases. Indeed, many of his proposals fell into the category of pleasing promises that will be difficult to make real: ending dependence on Middle East oil in 10 years, for example, or giving almost every American a tax cut without worsening the deficit."
Was the speech one for the ages? No. The speech was one for this candidate and this election. I remain of the opinion that anyone working for a living who does not vote for Obama has only themselves to blame for the mediocrity we can and should expect from McCain.
Obama Takes Aim at Bush and McCain With a Forceful Call to Change America - NYTimes.com:
"But the table for Mr. Obama was also set by speeches from some of the best-known Democratic leaders. They were led by Al Gore, the former vice president who confronted a question that has, fairly or not, hovered over Mr. Obama as he struggles in his contest with Mr. McCain.

“Why is this election so close?” Mr. Gore asked. “Well I know something about close elections, so let me offer you my opinion. I believe this election is close today mainly because the forces of the status quo are desperately afraid of the change Barack Obama represents.”"

***

Speaking in generally broad terms, Mr. Obama offered a contrast between Republican and Democratic views of the role of government.

“We measure the strength of our economy not by the number of billionaires we have or the profits of the Fortune 500,” he said, “but by whether someone with a good idea can take a risk and start a business, or whether the waitress who lives on tips can take a day off to look after a sick kid without losing her job — an economy that honors the dignity of work.”

Obama showed how he can and will fight.
In Speech, Bringing Lofty Words Down to Earth NYTimes.com:
"Mrs. Clinton once said that Mr. McCain had real experience while Mr. Obama’s candidacy had been the sum of so many speeches. Mr. Obama’s journey over the last 20 months has introduced him to many of the American archetypes — real people — that he described in this speech. On Thursday night, the speechmaker showed, in words, that he was also a man of experience, and a man who wanted to give something back to the people who gave it to him."

E. J. Dionne Jr. - Obama Rekindles the Flame - washingtonpost.com:
"Nine months later, on a clear Colorado night, Obama took the political pulpit again, this time to offer more detail, to make an extended argument, to answer his critics and to reassure the doubters. But in Denver as in Des Moines, he drew on the aspirations of the civil rights years to rekindle the sense of possibility and transformation that has, all along, been his campaign's central promise."
Frankly, I do not recognize what I heard in the words of Michael Gerson's Obama The Orthodox:
Some illusions have also been lost. For many Americans, the exciting young candidate who won the Iowa caucuses had the promise of being a new kind of politician entirely -- better than and different from the political norm of bitterness and calculation. Those hopes now seem -- in the words of a famous Democrat -- like a "fairy tale." In this convention, Obama "matured" into the spitting image of the typical Democratic politician. And this raises a question about Obama himself. Between Iowa and Denver there is little consistency except talent and ambition. Is there anything more to this candidate than talent and ambition?
No, the Republicans may like to believe that Obama is just another Democratic pol. He is that and more. I think Obama has to overcome fears of a white America and that was as much about what he had to do with his speech on last Thursday night. Thankfully, we have a candidate with talent and ambition and not just ambition.

While not a Clinton supporter, I recognize the feelings in Howard Wolfson's A Clintonite in Denver as what I felt while listening to the speech on my car radio on Thursday night:

The setting raised the bar for Obama's speech. The task before him: Explain what change meant and how it would be accomplished while weaving his own biography into the fabric of America's and laying out an appropriate contrast with John McCain.

No one in recent history had attempted this kind of a political conversation with 75,000 people. Barack Obama pulled it off.

For 18 months, I listened to Obama on television, sometimes intently, often just barely -- background noise to a running series of conference calls and meetings and e-mails.

In person, my attention undivided, I saw something of what so many others had seen for so long.

I suspect a whole bunch more people have begun to see.

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