Rating Obama’s speech to the DNC: Good not great, as was to be expected

No match for Clinton, Obama makes an OK play for country’s soul


Bill Clinton is a tough act to follow. Not only because he can talk policy without putting people to sleep, but because he’s the only Democrat with a sense of irony.

Just once, I wanted to hear someone at the convention last night get up and ditch the my-mama-was-a-one-legged-steel-worker routine. How great would it be had Wisconsin Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin or Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, or token hot person Eva Longoria, greeted the crowd with a proud, “Hello my fellow Americans. My grandfather was a tax attorney,” or “Good evening friends. I come from a long line of Boca Raton oncologists.”

Like I said, unless you’re a Kennedy, the only beginnings allowed at the DNC are humble ones. (And speaking of Kennedys, is it just me, or did Caroline seem heavily sedated last night?)

President Barack Obama, on the other hand, has no choice but to be humble, something that comes with the territory when you’re the leader of the free world; something that greatly diminishes your ability to counter your opponent without sounding like a jerk. Which is why Clinton’s speech was fated to outshine Obama’s from the get-go. As a been-there-done-that political grandfather, Clinton was able to play the all-wise oratorical mediator between an allegedly fair and logical Barack Obama and an allegedly unfeeling, ideological Mitt Romney. If Obama had given his speech on the need for “constructive co-operation,” as Clinton did, and the GOP’s militant reluctance to co-operate, he would have come off as petty and obnoxious–like a school-yard tattletale complaining that the other kids won’t play with him. And nobody likes a tattletale.

So while the Democrats love to talk about fair play, they had to know that after Clinton spoke, the game was rigged forever. Obama would not and did not out-speechify the 42nd president.

But he certainly tried, and did a pretty good job regardless.

Not necessarily because he affirmed voting rights, women’s rights, immigration rights, gay rights, the assault on Osama Bin Laden, the auto recovery, and a strong middle-class (things we already knew he would do), but because he turned the biggest Republican myth—that compassion is a sign of weakness—on its head, when he said the word “citizenship.” Citizenship evokes duty and strength and macho-ness, and Obama conflated those themes with liberal compassion, rendering it less Gandhi—more Game of Thrones.

He even gave brief props to Paul Ryan’s second religion—Randian objectivism—in his assertion that though it’s great to achieve personal success, the American dream is bound to a breed of citizenship that requires empathy and compassion. In a way he was making an argument for the country’s soul.

“We insist on personal responsibility, and we celebrate individual initiative.  We’re not entitled to success. We have to earn it.  We honor the strivers, the dreamers, the risk-takers, the entrepreneurs who have always been the driving force behind our free enterprise system, the greatest engine of growth and prosperity the world has ever known.

“But we also believe in something called citizenship, a word at the very heart of our founding, at the very essence of our democracy; the idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another, and to future generations.”

It’s like something Bill Adama would say. And it’s hard to argue with Bill Adama.

Other notable quotables

“Now, our friends down in Tampa, at the Republican convention, were more than happy to talk about everything they think is wrong with America, but they didn’t have much to say about how they’d make it right. They want your vote, but they don’t want you to know their plan. And that’s because all they had to offer is the same prescription they’ve had for the last 30 years: ‘Have a surplus? Try a tax cut.’ ‘Deficit too high?  Try another.’ ‘Feel a cold coming on?  Take two tax cuts, roll back some regulations, and call us in the morning.’”

“My opponent — my opponent said it was “tragic” to end the war in Iraq, and he won’t tell us how he’ll end the war in Afghanistan. Well I have, and I will.”

And my personal favourite:

“We don’t think the government can solve all our problems. But we don’t think that the government is the source of all our problems, any more than are welfare recipients, or corporations, or unions, or immigrants, or gays, or any other group we’re told to blame for our troubles.”


Rating Obama’s speech to the DNC: Good not great, as was to be expected

  1. President Barack Obama, on the other hand, has no choice but to be
    humble, something that comes with the territory when you’re the leader
    of the free world

    Words fail. Simply astonishing.

    There’s a word to describe a guy who says he can halt the rise of the oceans and heal the planet. A guy who says “I think that I’m a better speechwriter than my speechwriters. I know
    more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors.
    And I’ll tell you right now that I’m gonna think I’m a better political
    director than my political director.”

    “Humble” is not that word.

    • There’s also a word to describe people who take quotes from four years ago rather than listening to the words spoken last night. Actually, probably too many words for that, and enough of them are too rude to be posted here.

      • So, you don’t like people who study history? Or you don’t like people who point out the blatant contradictions of your favorite Super Hero?

        John is exactly right, calling Obama humble is an exercise in cognitive dissonance.

        • History? You’re joking, right? I’m happy to concede that Obama must have a bit of anti-humble in him, it sure takes a boatload of self-confidence to even run for the Presidency of the United States.

          But to pretend like that’s a reason to dislike the guy? I don’t want my president cowtowing around everyone’s opinion in the room, I want him to have some balls of his own.

          Romney’s living in the shadow of a big scary right wing machine that even he can’t hope to overcome. He chose Ryan knowing they’d lose together, and hoping his party would finally come back in from the woods of crazy.

          But alas, we are so close now – the proof shall be in the pudding, very soon.

        • You two really have trouble comprehending what you read, don’t you?
          She was speaking of his need to appear humble in his convention address. She wasn’t calling Obama humble.

      • The words spoken last night were the words of a man who had already seen this morning’s jobs report before taking the stage.

        • You do realize that Bush created no new net jobs in his entire term, even before the financial crisis set in and destroyed the tepid economy, right? Obama has created jobs for 30 months in a row now, that’s right, net positive job creation for 30 straight months, and 500,000 new manufacturing jobs in the same time period alone. You know how many manufacturing jobs were created during the Bush Empire? None. Negative, actually.

          But I welcome an informed discussion, if you’re capable.

  2. Emma, our mutual friend Meg linked me to this article. I am reading it now but stopped first to just say “heavily sedated” and Kennedy, now that’s a shocker… As much as I love them, I’m really pleased she didn’t end up with Hillary’s seat in the Senate.

    • For the clearest example of right-wing lunacy, note the downvote on this post. I stated I was GLAD a Kennedy didn’t get a Senate seat, and I still got a downvote. They just can’t think. Not think straight. Just not at all.

  3. Really like this analysis and your choice of quotes is excellent. I was a bit disappointed by the underwhelmed response this morning (by and large, of course) to Obama’s speech. Of course Bill was going to be tough-to-impossible to top, but Bill also has 67% approval ratings (73% with women!!), and he truly killed it on Wednesday.

    What do you think of this perspective, Bill as referee?: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/post/bill-clinton-playing-referee-makes-strongest-case-yet-for-obamas-reelection/2012/09/06/be1e246a-f7d2-11e1-8398-0327ab83ab91_blog.html

  4. “We insist on personal responsibility” – Funny that, coming from a President who’s signature policy during his term was to force people to buy insurance, or pay a penalty. A guy who’s got the support of every Union in the country (Unions aren’t really big on personal responsibility). A guy who’s blamed every single problem during his administration on the guy who had the job before him.

    “and we celebrate individual initiative” – Am I the only one who remembers him telling small business owners that they didn’t, in fact, build their own businesses? The guy has spent the last 6 years framing every single successful American individual as some greedy SOB who doesn’t pay their fair share. It’s insane for him to even suggest that the Dems even acknowledge individual initiative.

    • Hey Rick, ever heard of the Heritage Foundation? Did you know (interesting fact, I promise) that they are the ones who came up with the idea of the individual mandate in the first place?

      Damn liberal hippies.

      “Am I the only one who remembers him telling small business owners that they didn’t, in fact, build their own businesses?”

      Yes, you are. You’ve been watching too much Fox News, bro. What he said was that small business owners did not build the infrastructure and services that allow them to be in business, and, sadly for you, he was exactly correct when he said it.

      You really want to run your campaign on an out-of-context quote? That’s the BEST you can do?

      Best of luck next time.

      • And the silence is deafening…

      • Whatcha talkin’ about. I’m sure if any of those business owners had been born in, say Haita, they’d be just as successful. They don’t owe nuthin’ to nobody.

    • Rick your 1 of those people Harper has hired to monitor the Internet. I can tell by the way you talk so much nonsense.

  5. Obama made a great speech he will go down in history as 1 of the great Presidents. The spin talking righties know they are licked with the 2 stooges they have running for them.

  6. Nice insights and quotes Emma. Obama makes a couple of interesting tips of the hat to the late Steve Jobs. Mentioning him a couple of times was inspiring, but Obama’s several references to winning back skilled jobs from China can be traced right back to his conversations with Jobs, cited in Isaacson’s biography. Obama is an inspiring human being and a true leader.