Friday, August 29, 2008

Obama's Speech

Now that I've had some time to digest Obama's acceptance speech from last night, a few thoughts:

- This is as specific as you're going to get in a campaign speech, especially one of this importance. The line about "exactly what change is going to look like" was effective - and the 38 million people who watched the speech (a number higher than the viewing audience for the opening ceremony of the Olympics) aren't going to be as susceptible to attacks on Obama's alleged lack of substance.

- Obama's attacks are particularly effective - he gets close to his target ("I don't believe Senator McCain doesn't care...") which means he never misses the mark ("I think he just doesn't know"). This is a pretty clever tactic, and it deflects some of the criticism that could result from a negative attack - essentially, that Obama is undercutting his own message of a new kind of politics. A new kind of politics doesn't mean we can't attack positions, judgment, or empathy - but it does mean Obama won't claim that McCain is essentially committing treason. And yes, McCain has basically made that claim. His repeated insistence that Obama "would rather lose a war than lose an election" implies that Obama would allow the U.S. to undergo incredible trauma and loss for his own personal gain. Isn't that disloyalty? Isn't it treachery? says treason is "any attempt to overthrow the government or impair the well-being of a state to which one owes allegiance" (emphasis added). I suppose you could hedge by saying that withdrawal from Iraq would only be a loss in McCain's view, not Obama's, so there's a lack of motive to impair the well-being of the U.S., but still...

- The speech was very presidential. Obama jutted out his chin a little bit. He was forceful and specific. But most important, his pace was perfect. He started off a little slowly and built to an exciting but dignified finish. It wouldn't have looked quite right to rally the conventiongoers with beautiful, inspiring rhetoric (as wonderful as that rhetoric can be). Instead, Obama correctly sensed that a president's speech must be different from the kind of speeches he's been delivering as a candidate. In fact, despite all the comparisons, this speech was intentionally different from Obama's 2004 keynote speech. That speech was designed to introduce Barack Obama the Exciting New Politician. This speech was designed to introduce Barack Obama the President, and in that sense I think it succeeded brilliantly.

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