The Democrats pulled out all the theatrical stops tonight. They filled a football stadium, built part of a Greek temple, and put on a fireworks show worthy of the 4th of July.
Barack Obama, for his part, pulled out all the rhetorical stops. His speech was a patchwork of homey sentimentality, Clintonesque laundry lists, and Obama’s version of Jesse Jackson’s preacher man. If a particular riff that has worked somewhere on the stump didn’t fit into one of these slots, it was given its own.
All of these elements have worked for politicians at times and Obama pulls each off better than most. Thus, this may well prove to have been an effective speech. But by no means do I think this was a great, or even an excellent, one.
I was also surprised that it wasn’t better targeted towards the two groups Obama must have to win the election — Hillary Clinton-supporting women and independent voters. Obama made only the most perfunctory of nods in Hillary’s direction. And what exactly in this speech does Obama think will reel in independents skeptical about his fitness for office and his liberalism? The fact that his mother was from Kansas?
This was an angry speech as these things go, and (like Joe Biden’s) a dishonest one. If the McCain campaign wanted to provoke Obama, it succeeded. The political environment may be such that independent voters will have no problem with Obamaâ€™s stridency, the kind typically associated with VP nominee. But if they are that upset, Obama need not have given a speech.
Here’s the blow-by-blow account:
10:03 Obamaâ€™s intro tape begins. Weâ€™re told that his mother wanted young Barack to know what being an American means. Weâ€™re not told that she took him to Indonesia to find out.
10:04 His grandparents grew up in Kansas. Thatâ€™s code for â€œIâ€™m not a Muslim,â€ I guess. Otherwise, itâ€™s difficult to understand why Obama keeps pointing this out.
10:05 Michelle Obama recalls wondering â€œWho names their kid Barack Obama.â€ Does Michelle Obama realize that parents donâ€™t confer the surname?
10:07 Barack cleans up for Michelle. If your surname is Obama, you should be â€œBarry.â€ This segment is code for “I’m not a Muslim, my parents just messed up.”
10:08 The tape is covering Obamaâ€™s time in the state legislature. No legislative achievements are mentioned, but we learn that when he visited Southern Illinois he recognized the people because they were just like his grandparents. Actually, his grandparents were radicals living in Hawaii, but all ordinary white folk look alike.
10:09 The tape is over. No Indonesia, no Hawaii, no Harvard.
10:10 Obama is on stage now. Heâ€™s flashing a great smile, and why not?
10:11 Now heâ€™s applauding the crowd. I thought only European soccer players did this.
10:13 He plugs Hillary as â€œan inspiration to my daughters and yours.â€ This brief, hackneyed, insincere reference is all she rates tonight.
10:14 He plugs Joe Biden. Joe Biden is smiling like he just won the lottery, and why not?
10:16 He begins the substantive part of the speech by going negative on the Bush administration. Obama probably understands that the bloom is off his rose and that the key to victory is to â€œdraftâ€ home behind a wind of discontent.
10:18 Nothing special yet. This is just a generic Democratic attack speech.
10:20 This election, Obama says, is about keeping the American dream alive. Still very vanilla.
10:21 â€œWe love this country too much to let the next four years be just like the last eight.â€ Still pedestrian. â€œEight is enough.â€ That line was used earlier in the convention. Can I get my money back?
10:22 Now the subject is McCain. Obama praises him for â€œwearing the uniform of our country with bravery.â€ His praise of McCain is the most perfunctory Iâ€™ve heard yet at the convention. Obama has managed to make Bill Clinton seem gracious.
10:23 According to Obama, McCain voted with the Bush administration 90 percent of the time. The Dems have spent the entire convention shifting back and forth between 90 percent and 95 percent on this statistic. Itâ€™s meaningless in any case until a baseline is established by reference to, say, the percentage of time Obama voted with the administration. But it sounds good, or would if the Dems could get their story straight.
10:24 Playing off the 10 percent number, Obama says we shouldnâ€™t settle for a 10 percent chance on change. Itâ€™s nonsense of course, but it’s also his first semi-good line of the evening.
10:25 Obama is riffing off of Phil Grammâ€™s lines about a â€œmental recessionâ€ and a â€œnation of whiners.â€ Iâ€™ll need to check the transcript on this, but it sounded to me like Obama phrased this in a way that invites the impression that McCain, not Gramm, uttered these unfortunate lines.
10:26 According to Obama, itâ€™s not that John McCain doesnâ€™t care whatâ€™s going on in the country, itâ€™s that he doesnâ€™t know whatâ€™s going on. It seems unlikely that a candidate who has been attending town meetings on an almost daily basis for a year and half doesnâ€™t know whatâ€™s going on in the country. Obama is setting a low bar for McCain next week.
10:27 Obama follows up by claiming that McCain believes being wealthy means making $5 million per year or more. Iâ€™d like to see Obamaâ€™s source for this one.
10:29 Weâ€™re back to grandpa. He marched with General Patton. Maybe thatâ€™s why he wouldnâ€™t give grandma a ride to her job at the bank in Hawaii.
10:30 Grandma, who had the lead role in raising Obama and who he once impugned for racism, is finally getting her due.
10:31 Obama cites ma, grandma, and grandpa to refute McCainâ€™s charge that heâ€™s a celebrity. But McCain didnâ€™t say that ma, grandma, and grandpa were celebrities, he said that Obama was.
10:32 Obama states that, under his vision of the American promise, government â€œshould help us not hurt us.â€ Can I get my money back?
10:33 Hereâ€™s the part of the speech when Obama presents â€œexactly the changeâ€ heâ€™s going to deliver. Heâ€™s going to cut taxes for 95 percent of â€œworking families.â€
10:35 With respect to energy, itâ€™s all about new sources. He disparages new drilling as a â€œstop-gap.â€ Now who is insensitive to whatâ€™s going on in the country?
10:36 Heâ€™s working his way, Bill Clinton style, through the liberal domestic laundry list.
10:37 Promises about education.
!0:38 Promises about health care.
10:39 Heâ€™s going to protect social security. Nothing about how heâ€™s going to accomplish that. Are folks noticing how empty most of this is?
10:40 Heâ€™s going to make sure thereâ€™s equal pay for equal work. He doesnâ€™t mention that this has been the law of the land for virtually his entire lifetime. (The controversy here is over whether you have to complain about violations in a timely manner, as with every other law; the Dems are crusading to relieve plaintiffs of this obligation).
10:41 Obama is going to pay for all of his domestic promises by, you guessed it, closing tax loopholes and streamlining government. He’ll cut (unspecified) wasteful programs, don’t you see. Can I get my money back?
10:43 Hereâ€™s the obligatory salute to individual responsibility. This is designed to show that Obama isnâ€™t like other Democrats. Never mind that Democrats have been talking up individual responsibility for decades to show they are not like other Democrats. I guess their insincerity is so apparent that no one remembers.
10:44 After almost half an hour, we finally get to foreign policy and national security.
10:45 â€œWe must take out Osama bin Laden if we have him in our sights.â€ Who said Obama doesnâ€™t grasp national security issues?
10:46 He accuses McCain of not being willing to follow bin Laden into the cave where he lives. If Obama loses the election, letâ€™s hope he gives McCain the address of that cave.
10:47 Obama is setting a low bar for McCain next week.
10:48 Obama says heâ€™s the one who will deter Iran. You remember Iran â€“ that tiny country we donâ€™t have to worry about.
10:49 Obama is also the one to deter Russia. You remember Russia â€“ the country Obama was slow to denounce after it attacked Georgia.
10:50 Obama looks forward to debating McCain. . .as soon as heâ€™s done turning down opportunities to do so.
10:51 Obama is not going to question McCainâ€™s patriotism. Thatâ€™s big of him. But heâ€™s just accused McCain of being unwilling to go after bin Laden.
10:52 Obama will stipulate that both he and McCain love America. In fact, â€œwe all put our country first.â€ Obama is being amazingly defensive here. Then again, McCain spent six years in a Vietnamese prison for his country. Obama spent 20 years being mentored spiritually by the rabid anti-American Jeremiah Wright and is friends with Chicagoâ€™s first couple of domestic terrorism. In these circumstances, Iâ€™d try for that same stipulation.
10:53 Heâ€™s getting even more defensive now, as he raises the issues of abortions and guns. His tactic is to call for â€œunityâ€ and â€œcommon groundâ€ on the issues where heâ€™s weakest. Can we have some common ground on taxes? Like donâ€™t raise mine?
10:54 Obama just knows that the Republicans are going to try to make this â€œbig election be about small issues.â€ Like his fitness for the presidency.
10:55 Now heâ€™s recalling the people he claims to have met on the campaign trail. This isnâ€™t bad material, but the speech is getting long. Has he kept his audience for the grand finale?
10:59 Here it comes, and naturally itâ€™s going to be tied to the 45th anniversary of Dr. Kingâ€™s speech in Washington.
11:00 Obama is in full preacher mode now and he sounds great. He speaks admiringly of King who, unlike Obama tonight, spoke without anger. Yet it was Jeremiah Wright, not King, who brought Obama to Christ.
11:02 The speech is over and the Obama and Biden families have gathered on stage. The scene is quite impressive. Good looking families, awesome fireworks, a massive stadium filled with cheering (and in some cases ecstatic) people. Will it be viewed as too much? Weâ€™ll see.
11:03 The music in this setting has a creepy, epic quality to it. When do the chariot races start?
11:04 One more bow for the Obama couple and the Biden couple before they ascend to the heavens.
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