I’ve long said that Barack Obama is one of America’s most gifted orators. The man knows how to turn a phrase. He can inspire. He can speak.
That Obama was barely on the stage tonight.
Instead of soaring rhetoric, we got attacks. Instead of a compelling vision, we got what Obama is not. Instead of great lines, we got rhetoric that will not last beyond this election. This speech failed to satisfy.
Obama could have done better. This was a small speech on a momentous occasion. I honestly expected more from him. Even as a partisan, I can recognize great rhetoric when I see it, and this was not it. It was too small for him, and while some may love the red meat, this was not a speech for the ages.
On the other hand, perhaps it need not be. Obama wants to win the election, and that’s what this speech is about. The problem is that when Obama ran, he ran as a uniter. He ran as a post-partisan candidate. He leaves this speech as just another partisan.
UPDATE: Oddly enough, the conservative commentators on Fox News thought this was a great speech. My theory is that partisans seem to think that this was a great speech—because this speech was so partisan. The real question is whether this speech will attract the undecided.
On the other hand, generic Democrats are doing well in this bad year for Republicans. Obama has turned himself into a generic Democrat—which perhaps is enough for him. But I don’t think that’s enough.
I can accept that Obama took the “agent of change” mantle back, as several commentators have argued. The problem with that is that Obama’s appeal was that he was a post-partisan figure as well as an agent of change. He lost that tonight. It was a gamble, and perhaps it will pay off for him. But even as an admitted McCain partisan, I wanted to see a real vision beyond attacks and a laundry list of focus-group tested policies. Something real to spar with. That did not appear tonight, and that’s why Obama’s speech did not achieve what it should have.
Here is McCain’s challenge: let us accept that the American people have had “enough.” (Which is true.) But the American people don’t know what “change” Obama will bring—and McCain has to paint a compelling vision of what he will do that Obama will not.
That is something that McCain can do, but it will be a challenge. McCain does have a big job ahead of him, but the contrasts are clear.
UPDATE: In all fairness, the set was not merely as bad as I thought it would be. Granted, I watched PBS, which didn’t play with camera angles too much, but it didn’t really seem all that distracting. That and neo-classical architecture is my bag…
UPDATE: Wow, I’m really in the minority here. Even Jay Nordlinger thought the speech was good. The problem is that Obama had huge expectations placed before him. I can believe that this was a good partisan speech for the moment, but I don’t see it lasting. This wasn’t great oratory, from an orator who has the capability to truly inspire. Had a John Kerry or a Walter Mondale given this speech it might have been better in my eyes. But Barack Obama has more raw political talent than either. My biggest problem with this speech, my partisanship aside, is that Obama could have done better.