A WINNER, I THINK
To me, that was a terrific Obama speech. It was a very good mix of poetry and biography and a roll call of policies. (In that way it was a lot like Bill Clinton's best-received speeches, and Clinton should get over his jealousy and take some satisfaction in the fact that Obama's clearly watched and learned from him.) I really loved the rebukes to the McCain campaign ("So I've got news for you, John McCain: We all put our country first" and so on). In my lifetime, no Democrat at Obama's level has ever been that pugnacious toward a Republican. I think the tough talk stung.
What I can't tell is whether everything worked for the voters Obama needed to persuade. My main worry is that invocations of "change" and the future were used to bring home specific points. Here, for instance:
And today, today, as my call for a timeframe to remove our troops from Iraq has been echoed by the Iraqi government and even the Bush administration, even after we learned that Iraq has $79 billion in surplus while we are wallowing in deficit, John McCain stands alone in his stubborn refusal to end a misguided war.
That's not the judgment we need; that won't keep America safe. We need a president who can face the threats of the future, not keep grasping at the ideas of the past.
You don't defeat -- you don't defeat a terrorist network that operates in 80 countries by occupying Iraq. You don't protect Israel and deter Iran just by talking tough in Washington. You can't truly stand up for Georgia when you've strained our oldest alliances.
If John McCain wants to follow George Bush with more tough talk and bad strategy, that is his choice, but that is not the change that America needs.
I worry that older voters and other Obama skeptics would like to be assured that "the future" will just go away, or will be enough like the present that they don't have to think about how different it's going to be. I worry that when you talk about, say, foreign policy, they want you to say we'll go back to the (glorious) past, not the future. I worry that, even in a country that desperately wants a change of course, Obama skeptics think "change" is a weird Obama cult word.
But I just don't know if it was a home run. But it was very good.
And holding it in the football stadium was just fine. Shortly before the speech I was reading "Democrats Try to Minimize Stadium's Political Risks" in The New York Times -- and the Dems really did pull it off:
...On Thursday afternoon, workers were still making changes to Invesco Field, home to the Denver Broncos, so it would feel more intimate, less like the boisterous rallies that served Mr. Obama so well early in the primaries, but also created the celebrity image that dogs him....
They were still testing camera angles to the very end, so Mr. Obama would appear among the giant crowd, not above it. They took steps to reduce the echo effect, familiar to football fans, of speaking in such a cavernous space....
It didn't seem like the site of a huge ego trip. We seemed instead to be watching a big but very traditional outdoor rally. In fact, Obama on TV looked as if he was speaking at an indoor venue -- the much-mocked backdrop worked.
I don't know what advantage the campaign got out of the big outdoor setting -- it's odd that the speech was shifted out of the Pepsi Center and then the new venue was rendered as Pepsi Center-esque as possible. But it worked. McCain's inevitable six thousand new "celebrity" ads are going to fall flatter than he hoped if they feature footage from last night. (And, yes, thumbs up to Obama for "Now, I don't know what kind of lives John McCain thinks that celebrities lead, but this has been mine" -- great line.)