In the few times I have watched Barack Obama speak, I’ve observed how well, like Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, he responds to the audience. Perhaps because I’ve seen Reagan speak up close on more than one occasion and because of my great reverence for the man, I think he connected with any audience better than those two Democrats.
If the audience responded to a particular line, he would pause, smile or otherwise gesture as the rhetoric required and wait until the audience was ready for him to continue. The applause would reach its crescendo and begun to taper off before perhaps with a different tone or just renewed vigor, he would continue.
In such a manner did Barack Obama address the Democratic Convention four years ago. Tonight, while his voice remained as mellifluous as ever, he himself seemed rushed as if eager to finish the speech before the 11:00 newscasts on the East Coast.
Indeed, he talked right over the audience as they were applauding one of his best lines in the whole address:
I don’t know what kind of lives John McCain thinks that celebrities lead, but this has been mine. These are my heroes. Theirs are the stories that shaped me. And it is on their behalf that I intend to win this election and keep our promise alive as president of the United States.
It was a good way to address the most effective ad of the McCain campaign. He should have savored the moment, paused, let the audience roar its approval, then pick up again, perhaps repeating part of that passage.
(Maybe he realized he needed to slow down because he did allow for some dramatic pauses toward the end of the speech.)
It wasn’t just his rushed delivery, it was also his movement. He kept turning his head this way and that, not to address a particular person in the audience — or a particular section of the stadium, but as if a speech instructor had told him to look around the room as he spoke. It seemed he heeded the advice rather than follow his own instincts which tend to serve him well in such circumstances.
At times, he shouted his speech as if he felt that were the only way he could make himself heard in such a venue. And, as I observed in posting my initial thoughts on the speech, he seemed, at times, very angry.
As to the substance, what was becoming apparent in the course of the convention was made fully manifest tonight: the Democrats intend to run against John McCain as a clone of George W. Bush. Watch for Hillary’s line, “that George Bush and John McCain will be together next week in the Twin Cities, because these days they’re awfully hard to tell apart” to become a kind of mantra for Democratic critiques of the Republican Convention next week.
That gives the presumptive Republican nominee a great opportunity next week, but a perilous one. He’ll need to distinguish himself from the incumbent without upsetting the party’s base. No easy task as I detailed here.
Should he succeed, he’ll undercut the Democratic strategy from the get-go.
As far as the substance goes, I am delighted to see a Democrat promising to cut taxes. Guess he learned from Ronald Reagan. And John F. Kennedy.
Otherwise, I have to agree with Yuval Levin that it “It was a more traditional liberal Democratic speech than [Obama] normally gives,” standard liberal boilerplate with lots of promises for government action, but, unlike Walter Mondale twenty-four years ago, without vowing to increase taxes.
Stephen Green offered perhaps the best assessment of any one of the Democratic nominee’s disingenuous comments: “If John McCain wants to have a debateâ€¦’ Uh, dude, McCain wants to have like ten debates, and you winced at holding three of them.”
The speech included no memorable lines and seemed to lack a theme except to say that John McCain is just the same as George W. Bush and I offer change a new kind of politics. It lacked any great moments, like Al and Tipper Gore’s kiss in 2000, which might have the potential to change the dynamic of the race.
Perhaps, Big Tent Democrat is right and it was better that he eschewed his normally eloquent oratory for a more standard speech. It may well galvanize the faithful, but will it address the concerns that Independent voters and some Democrats have of his candidacy?
As a partisan observer, I’m not in the greatest position to judge that. The Democrat with whom I watched it found it less impressive than his other speeches while a friend of no known (to me) partisan affiliation said he had watched the beginning of the speech but did not find it engaging enough to watch it through to the end.
He went for a run instead.
UPDATE: Switched on FoxNews as I finished editing this. Bill Kristol really liked the speech. While Charles Krauthammer did not find it to be a great speech, he did think it was a smart one. He thought this “generic Democratic” address should work well to rally the Democratic base, especially the working class Democrats whom Obama had trouble reaching in the primary campaign. His evaluation kind of echoes that of Big Tent Democrat.
It was interesting to see how much disagreement there was on the FoxNews panel about the power and impact of the speech. Â And some people fault the network of only broadcasting some monolithic set of conservative talking points.
UP-UP-UPDATE: Reading Peggy’s thoughts while waiting to see John McCain with Sarah Palin:
The speech itself lacked lift but had heft. It wasn’t precisely long on hope, but I think it showed audacity. In fact, by the end of the speech I thought it was quite a gamble.
Will it work? We’ll see the polls on the final convention bounce soon. We’ll know some of the answer then. But I have a feeling this speech will be like the Europe trip. It will take time for people to let it sink in, and decide what they think. And I’ll tell you, Mr. Obama left a lot of space for Mr. McCain to play the happy warrior next week. He left the Republicans a big opportunity to wield against him, in contrast, humor, and wit, and even something approximating joy.
Now just read the whole thing!
UP-UP-UP-UPDATE: Michael Barone doesn’t think Obama’s themes will hold up and offers this on his tone:
I thought it was, for most voters, a workmanlike rather than an inspirational speech. He started with the advantage that the mood of the country is negativeâ€”a big majority of us think the nation is seriously on the wrong track. He’s going with the flow there.
As with anything by Barone (like anything by Peggy), just read the whole thing.