Yes he did


I missed Senator McCain’s speech, which was apparently not one for the clip file, but Senator Obama is reminding us that he is good at what he does. What just ended — one of American history’s truly great nominating contests — was what a close race looks like. The front-runner hit rough patches. The loser in a long slow race looked increasingly awkward and graceless. I think Clinton will look better with a few years’ hindsight than she has in the last month. To me she looks pretty good anyway, a lot better than the chorus of blogyard bullies who kept tut-tutting about how impolitely she was campaigning. She’s been better through it all than most candidates would have been. As long as she doesn’t fight too hard now to be Obama’s running mate. He gets to choose. That’s what winning means.

Obama is a nominee Democrats can support, not only because he presents himself as a practitioner of a “new” politics (about which, I’m sorry, I’m still skeptical; I’ve seen so much new politics in so many races it’s getting pretty old), but because he has proven adept at the cumpulsory figures of the old politics: he can give a speech, he can organize, fight back, rise above, control damage. Politics is a craft before, or it remains one after, it is an art or a calling. Obama, whose speech to the 2004 Democrat convention was unimpressive, has the necessary quality of any craftsman. He learns.

On to November. The easy prediction, always true, is that more surprises lie ahead.


Yes he did

  1. “She’s been better through it all than most candidates would have been.” Seriously?

    Are you talking about the same Hillary that has made the blatantly dishonest argument that all Michigan delegates should count for her, while none should count for Obama? The same Hillary that has pushed her supporters to the verge of voting for McCain if she’s not the candidate? The same Hillary that’s lost the primary, and yet still hasn’t conceded?

    If the Dems lose in November, that will be her legacy.

  2. Obama is an empty suit, the conspiracy theorist in me says he’s a “sock puppet”. Luke when talking about blatantly dishonest look at the man who just threw his church of 20 years under the bus, along with his “typical white” grandmother that raised him. I believe he has an agenda the likes of which we have never seen.

  3. She reminds me of Ed Muskie.

  4. C’mon… make a real prediction! That way we can needle you for months if you’re wrong, and completely forget about your prediction if you’re right.

  5. His 2004 speeach to the DNC was unimpressive? Come on. Give your head a shake.

  6. Sorry you missed McCain’s speech. It wasn’t his finest performance, but I think the content is instructive. Should Barak Obama lose – it will be due to an effective elaboration of the content of McCain’s speech.

  7. I guess you didn’t see Jeffrey Toobin’s reaction to McCain’s speech on CNN last night then, eh?

    It was CLASSIC.

    Toobin virtually demanded that his fellow talking heads pause and discuss the speech (they were focused on the Dems) because it was that bad. “That was pathetic” Toobin exclaimed, in a loud voice both incredulous and shocked. He called it the worst speech McCain has ever given (I don’t think Toobin would say that “not one for the clip file” does this disaster justice, lol).

    Now, Toobin’s comments were mostly about theatre, not substance, but he made some excellent points (and his insistence that they all stop and redirect the conversation to what a train wreck McCain’s performance was, because it was so bad that it was instantly the most newsworthy item of the moment and couldn’t be ignored, was both refreshing and funny!).

    And it was quite the contrast. McCain in front of some nondescript pea green background before an audience of (maybe) a couple hundred people, giving a boring speech that made him look boring (and let’s face it, older than dirt) and the exciting, dynamic Obama giving a passionate address in a stadium filled to overflowing with around 20,000 supporters. The biggest problem, in my mind, is not the contrast, but that McCain’s team allowed the contrast to be set up by having McCain give that speech, on that night, at that time in that place, in front of that audience.

    Anything that leads to Jeffrey Toobin openly mocking you on CNN and using words like “pathetic” and “horrible”, and looking almost comic in his disbelief at how truly awful what he just witnessed was is a BAD SIGN. Surely anyone with half a brain should have known not to set up a compare and contrast of rhetorical prowess of McCain and Obama, on the night Obama wins the nomination, while he’s waiting to address a STADIUM FULL of vocal and excited supporters.

    Or so one would have thought.

  8. I saw Toobin’s reaction. I think he has a point -which is why I politely said it wasn’t McCain’s best speech. And you’re right, it was all bad optics. Content wise, it was a homerun. Of course, actual home runs need to match content up to style. So there’s work to be done.

    Anyway, I can’t wait to see how Toobin reacts when McCain wins and he’ll have to accept that substance beats style. How’s that for a post-partisan politics?

  9. I just watched the 1st 6 of 30 minutes of McCain’s speech via Huff Post. I don’t have time to watch the rest. He started out well with the gracious praise of Hillary Clinton, but as time went on he looked more and more like a tired old puppet.

    It’s true he rattled off a bunch of themes that could be expanded into a campaign, but he looked too old and tired to be the man to pull it off. Maybe he got better later in the speech, but I’ll bet a lot of other people formed their opinion early like me.

  10. There was really no way for McCain to make yesterday a good one for him and a bad one for Obama, and he shouldn’t have tried. That’s how this works: each candidate will have his triumphant days and the other just has to take it.

    I’m not sure how all of this looked to Americans who might vote for one or the other (one of the hard parts about being a political junkie is you almost always have your horse in the race before it gets really interesting). As an unintentional experiment, I have spent the last month getting no TV coverage of this and compensating with a lot of reading speeches, news coverage etc. Try reading a typical Obama speech, with its litany of empty slogans, in your own voice without rolling your eyes. Conversely, McCain’s speeches are enhanced without his delivery getting in the way. But how do most voters get their news?

    My final thought before this whole thing gets started is that I’m struck by how the personal arguments for why McCain will win (or should win), is stuff like the huge gap between them in service to country, the other guy is a lightweight, sure he’s got a likeable personality but I have more substance, and so on. In essence, the arguments for Kerry over Bush. It didn’t work then, and I suspect it won’t now unless Obama blows it.

  11. In your list of “compuslory figures” you left out the most improtant one, the only prerequisite for candidacy really, that Obama can raise money. Good speeches, organizing, damage control, etc. are all important, but without money …

  12. Ryan,

    I’d suggest the difference from Kerry/Bush is that the Obama campaign is so utterly hinged to his personal “changeification”. If comes up looking like a phony – something I suspect he will – it will hurt him a lot worse than Kerry.

  13. McCain’s comments last night about something being repeated over and over because it is not true may come back to haunt him. I expect a youtube video could be created in short order, to hilarious effect.

  14. Thanks, everyone for a good conversation, which of course you’re free to continue. I have sad news: I gave my head a shake and I still remember Obama’s ’04 speech as stilted and dishwatery. I’m afraid there’s no hope for me.

  15. Stilted and dishwatery? Ok, only about 100 million people would disagree.

    Let’s put it this way. Had he not given that speech the way he did, would he be where he is today? That speech took him from local Chicago politician to national star. Yes, he didn’t offer a monologue on how to change health care policy, but there are many different ways to give a great speech and, judging by the popular reaction, I would suggest he found at least one of them on that night. He accomplished more in that 15 minutes than almost anyone else I can think of over a similar time frame.

  16. Ryan, I don’t think the issue is whether people evaluate candidates’ speeches based on written content or televised delivery. I think the issues is – do people base their votes on speeches or debates at all? Those of us inside the bubble surely live for debates and great speeches, but I am not convinced they have an impact on voting day.

  17. Although I agree that McCain is an awful orator, I don’t think what Jeffrey Toobin’s opinion (or CNN at large for that matter) really means anything. Their ratings are going down steadily and their objectivity has been proven to be non-existent over and over and over. I mean, they employ Ananpour, no? ‘nough said!

  18. “Let’s put it this way. Had he not given that speech the way he did, would he be where he is today? That speech took him from local Chicago politician to national star.”

    Perhaps that says more about the state of the Democratic Party at the time than his speech. Still, what would I know, the only thing I remember from American politics in 2004 are Arnold’s creepily long and drawn out “four more years” chant at the end of his speech at the GOP convention, something about swiftboats, and Blitzer refusing to call Ohio when it was obvious to absolutely everyone that Kerry had lost.

    As for Obama, his problem now is that he has sold himself as something new. After seeing him give the same speech for over a year, he’s getting stale. Hopefully Hillary goes away and he gets some new material.

  19. Andre,

    I agree entirely. Toobin is not an objective analyst, but he was largely correct. The speech wasn’t very well delivered. However, McCain is not an awful orator. Stiff perhaps, not awful. His victory speech in New Hampshire turned me into a McCainiac – it was uplifting and inspiring where Obama’s candy confections leave me cold and annoyed.

  20. Andre,

    I’m not as down on CNN as you (though I take your point) but my comment was less about CNN, or Toobin himself than about Toobin’s reaction, which I felt was honest and genuine. He appeared genuinely SHOCKED by what he had just witnessed. GENUINELY shocked.

    Was his reaction “objective” in the “journalistic” sense? Not in the least (and to be fair to Toobin, I think it’s pretty clear he’s there on that panel as a commentator, not a journalist, so he’s being asked for opinion, not black and white, facts-only “objectivity”).

    One thing I’m pretty sure about his reaction to McCain’s speech though was that it was honest. I really believe he was genuinely flabbergasted by what he had just seen. He said basically (and I’m only barely paraphrasing) “Excuse me, but can we go back to the horrific speech that John McCain just gave?!?! That’s the worst speech I’ve ever heard him give. He looked undead. His audience seemed FULLY dead. He seemed like he could barely read the teleprompter. WTF!?!?!”

    I was literally laughing out loud while I watched Toobin go off. I don’t know what others think, but I think his “what the Hell was THAT?” tirade was fueled by nothing more than the fact that all he could think after watching McCain’s speech was “WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?!?!”. Was it great analysis? Debatable. Was it great journalism? Not really (though again, not why he’s there). It was just a guy who just watched a pretty mediocre speech, delivered HORRIBLY (it wasn’t just bad, it was painful) who was so flabbergasted by the insanity of what he had just seen that he couldn’t hold it in.

    Surely I’m not the only one that wishes more people on “the News” would occasionally react to the utterly ridiculous by yelling out “OMG! That was utterly ridiculous!!!”.

    If nothing else it was highly entertaining (the reactions of the other panelists were priceless, even after they all stopped laughing!).

    As soon as I saw it I immediately thought of it as fodder for Jon Stewart. I wouldn’t be surprised to see tape of Toobin going off on the Daily Show tonight.

  21. Sure, LKO. I think you have it right – its fun when people react with more than simply staid analysis. Myself, I’d like to see someone react to an Obama speech the way I do – you know, someone says, “hey, all that’s missing from that speech is a healed cripple.”

  22. I guess what McCain’s general speaking style has going for it (and I didn’t see yesterday’s speech) is that he’s earnest. That’s the way he’ll have to win. Run another underdog campaign as the guy who’s put his time in, given more to his country than anyone could ask and wants to be President for all the right reasons. Enough people will see him as a safe pair of hands that if they have reason to be skittish about Obama, McCain can win. And I don’t think that Obama’s two decades of immersion in black liberation theology is done causing him trouble.

  23. That should be “..are done causing him trouble”

  24. “Content wise, it was a homerun.”

    I disagree. He chose to frame his speech using Obama’s change theme (“You don’t want the wrong kind of change, do you?”). That’s a cardinal sin in political messaging. If he continues to do that, Obama has already won.

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