Saturday Reads: President Obama’s Acceptance Speech

Good Morning!

Generally speaking the pundits didn’t care for President Obama’s acceptance speech on Thursday night. It’s not surprising that the guys at Politico thought it “fell flat.”

A surprisingly long parade of Democrats and media commentators described the speech less as a failure than a fizzle—an oddly missed opportunity to frame his presidency or the nation’s choice in a fresh or inspirational light.

Even those who liked the president’s performance generally went no further than saying that he was effective in doing a job that needed to be done, in a tough-minded if prosaic style.

These shoulder-shrug reactions confront Obama with a question no one expected to be asking when the week in Charlotte began: How did a president for whom stirring speeches were the engine of his rise to power manage to give, at best, only the third-most compelling speech at a convention devoted to his own re-election?

But even more liberal commentators found Obama’s speech wanting. Peter Beinart called it “underwhelming and anticlimactic.”

Obama’s acceptance speech had two apparent goals: The first was to lay out an agenda for the next four years so people feel they have something forward-looking to vote for. The second was to recapture the sense of hope that defined Obama’s 2008 campaign.

On paper, he did both things. But what the speech lacked was a coherent explanation of the nightmare this country has gone through for the last four years. Republicans are laying the Great Recession at Obama’s feet. Obama is saying that Republicans created it and, if elected, will make it worse. To win that argument, Obama needed to explain why the financial crisis happened, and he didn’t. Yes, he mocked the GOP for proposing tax cuts as the answer to every problem, but the financial crisis didn’t happen because of tax cuts. It happened, in large measure, because Republican and some Democratic politicians—blinded by free-market fundamentalism and Wall Street largesse—allowed bankers to create unregulated markets in which they gambled the savings of millions of Americans, knowing that if their bets failed, they wouldn’t be the ones to lose their homes and their life’s savings.

Obama should have told that story, and then gone at Romney for doubling down on the ideology that almost brought America to its knees. Then he should have contrasted that with his own interventions to protect people who the market has failed: whether they be auto workers or people with sick kids.

Michael Tomasky called it Pedestrian and Overconfident

Let’s be blunt. Barack Obama gave a dull and pedestrian speech tonight, with nary an interesting thematic device, policy detail, or even one turn of phrase. The crowd sure didn’t see it my way. The delegates were near delirium; to what extent they were merely still feeding off the amassed energy of the previous two nights I can’t say.

And swing voters watching at home? They probably weren’t as bored as I was, but it seems inconceivable that they’d have been enraptured. This was the rhetorical equivalent, forgive the football metaphor, of running out the clock: Obama clearly thinks he’s ahead and just doesn’t need to make mistakes. But when football teams do that, it often turns out to be the biggest mistake of all, and they lose.

Nevertheless, the final night of the Democratic Convention drew about 35.7 million viewers. The second night of the convention, when Bill Clinton spoke pulled in more views than the Giants-Cowboys game that played opposite the Convention coverage, about 25.1  million people–but nowhere near the number who watched the speeches by Vice President Biden and President Obama. Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech attracted 30.3 million viewers.

Howard Kurtz reported that Obama’s acceptance speech was deliberately “low-key.”

While the pundits are generally calling the president’s Thursday night address mediocre, Obama and his advisers had taken great pains to avoid soaring rhetoric that might have been derided as empty.

Indeed, they extensively tested the president’s speech in dial groups, a type of focus group where voters twist dials to register approval or disapproval of specific passages, and say it tested off the charts. The reaction, they say, was more positive than to Obama’s 2008 acceptance speech in Denver.

In short, the president deliberately dialed it down, stopping well short of the altitudes he is capable of reaching. Perhaps that will prove to be a mistake, but the decision to go with a less rousing approach was carefully considered.

The campaign’s primary goal at the Democratic convention was to provide a concrete sense of what Obama would do in a second term. That was what independent voters wanted, according to the research, and that was the focus in Charlotte.

Personally, I thought the first half of Obama’s speech was underwhelming, but I’ve never been a big fan of his speeches. About half-way through I thought the speech became more interesting. I was impressed that Obama admitted how difficult the job is and that he has questioned himself at times and that he has been “changed” by being President of the United States. I think the best evaluation of the speech that I read yesterday was by Tom Junod at Charles Pierce’s blog: President Obama Falls Back to Earth, Transformed. Junod’s thesis statement: “We should have known that Barack Obama would emerge from this convention conventionalized — that is, as a more conventional politician than he was when he went in. Or that we ever thought he could be.”

He didn’t rise to the occasion on Thursday night; he not only didn’t reinvent the possibilities of political language, he used language that many people had to feel they’d heard before. His speech was disappointing until, with about ten minutes to go, it acknowledged disappointment, and so began its rise. “The times have changed — and so have I,” he said. “I’m no longer just a candidate. I’m the president.” Of course, he was reminding us of his power; the fact of his presidency has become an argument for his presidency. But he was also reminding us that as a candidate who rose to power on the politics of pure potential, he is, as president, a fallen man. “And while I’m proud of what we’ve achieved together, I’m far more mindful of my own failiings, knowing exactly what Lincoln meant when he said, ‘I have been driven to my knees many times by the overwhelming conviction that I had no place else to go.'”

This was where the speech turned, and became, in its statement of humility, a statement of rousing power. “I ask you for your vote,” he said, and his commonplace words had a beseeching quality that put them outside the realm of political performance. He had failed to transform his office, and failed to transform our politics, but he sounded fully aware that he had been himself transformed.

He had started out as the Cassius Clay of our politics, brash and blinding, with an abilty to do things in the ring that no one else had ever thought of — with an ability to be untouchable. Now he stood inside the ring of stars on the blue carpeted stage of the Democratic National Convention as the Muhammad Ali whose greatness was proven after he returned to boxing bigger, slower, harder-hitting but also easier to hit. Oh, Ali got touched, all right, and since he lost his skill at avoiding punches he had to find the skill of taking them. He became a prodigy not of otherworldly gifts but rather of sheer will, and so it was with Obama in his speech on Thursday night. At an event that paid endless tributes to our wounded warriors, he rebranded himself as something of a wounded warrior himself; and at the very moment when those who remembered 2008 hoped he might say something that no one had ever heard before and maybe even reinvent, one more time, the possibilities of a word as hackneyed as hope itself, he instead completed his hard-won journey to convention.

Of course I never thought Obama was anything but an ordinary, conventional politician. As everyone here knows, I never bought the “hope and change” schtick. I never saw Obama as a great liberal savior. I was impressed with his acceptance speech, because he showed humility. By the end of the speech I was convinced that this man had matured in office, and because of that, I saw hope for his second term.

Apparently, Charlie Pierce never saw the transcendent Obama either.

I never heard the music.

People told me it was there. People told me it sang to them. People told me that its chords touched them deeply in their hearts. I watched as it make them weep and cheer. I watched as it moved them while I stood there, an unbeliever at the grotto, seeing only rocks and weeds where everyone around me saw and heard and joined in something altogether transformative. I was there in Boston when the president gave the speech that first sent him rocketing up the charts, and I didn’t hear it. Since then, I have seen him give an acceptance speech, an inaugural address, a Nobel oration, and three State of the Unions, and the only thing I remember about any of the latter is that he got heckled by some peckerwood from South Carolina, and that he called out the corporate meat-puppets of the Supreme Court in what I still believe is the finest — and certainly, the most prescient — moment of his presidency.

But I never found the poetry in it all. I thought he was a good, smart orator with some uniquely gifted writers and a talent for creating a warm and comfortable context in which people could take what they believed were all their best instincts out for a walk. I still believe that. He still reaches people at depths that I cannot fathom. He still reaches them in frequencies beyond my poor ability to hear.

That is pretty much how I’ve always reacted to Obama’s speeches. But in his convention speech, I thought I saw something more substantive. And it gave me hope. Pierce was impressed with Obama’s reference to “…the hard and frustrating and necessary work of self-government.”

That I heard. That I understood. It is not musical. It is not in any way poetic. But it is a clear line drawn between the president and the person and the party that would like to take his job from him. It is now an article of absolute faith among Republicans that “the government” is an entity separate from “the American people,” which they say the same way that the old Jesuits talked about “the mystical Body of Christ.” It is now an ironclad commandment of conservative orthodoxy that “the government” is something parasitic and alien. There is a reason why conservatives talk about “government” and not “self-government,” because to refer to the latter is to concede that “the government” is really the most basic product of our political commonwealth, that it is what we produce among ourselves so as to order the production of everything else that we do together. This is not an idle distinction. It is the entire message of last week’s Republican convention, and it is the entire message of the campaign they are planning to run, and, make no mistake, it resonates deeply with millions of people because it has been spoonfed to them as a kind of noxious anesthetic for almost foty years now, a long enough time for it to seem as though it is the natural order of things.

“…the hard and frustrating and necessary work of self-government.”

Make no mistake. This little throwaway line was the most direct, and the most serious, challenge that the president threw down at the feet of the Republican ticket on Thursday night because it strikes at the very essence of four decades of conservative political philosophy. We create “the government” we have. “The government” is not imposed from without. It is our creation. Its proper operation is our responsibility. If we do not like the way it operates, we do the hard and frustrating and necessary work to change the way it does. If we believe that it is being hijacked, we do the hard and frustrating and necessary work of using the tools of self-government to run the moneychangers out of the place. If we do not like the way the person we vote for is doing the job with which we have entrusted him — if he, say, allows the crooks who brought down the economy to walk away free, or if he perpetuates policies antithetical to civil liberties, or if he gets a little too cozy with fracking or if he gives away too much in some Grand Bargain — then we do the hard and frustrating and necessary work of self-government to hold his damn feet to the fire and say, “No further.”

Please go read the whole thing if you haven’t already. Obama articulated the key difference between today’s Republicans and the rest of us. They hate government and believe it should do nothing for people, just fund national defense and aid corporations. Most Democrats still believe that Government has a role in making people’s lives better, in ensuring that even the weakest and most vulnerable among us have rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

At the same time we citizens have the responsibility to stand up to our leaders, to voice our needs and our values, to remind our leaders that they work for us and there are certain things we won’t tolerate–whether that’s privatizing social security and medicare, limiting women’s rights, killing people with unmanned drones, limiting voting rights or some other policy that is important to us.

I think Obama’s speech got the job done. It made the convention delegates happy, and it laid a foundation for the arguments he will make over the final few weeks of the campaign. I hope he will continue to emphasize the importance of citizenship–of the necessity of every American being involved in “self-government.” That is the price of democracy.

Now what are you reading and blogging about today?  This is an open thread!


DNC Live Blog: Day 3

Here we go . . . This is the last night of the 2012 Democratic National Convention. We can only hope the speeches will be as thrilling as the ones we heard last night.

Tonight Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama will accept their nominations to run for reelection. In addition, there will be a who slew of celebrity appearances, including Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson, The Foo Fighters, Eva Longoria, Mary J. Blige, James Taylor, Earth Wind & Fire, Marc Anthony, and Kerry Washington. Former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords will lead the pledge of allegiance.

At 8:00, former Florida Governor Charlie Crist will speak. At 10:00, we’ll hear from Eva Longoria, Joe Biden, and President Obama. The rest of the night’s schedule has not been released.

Just a few headlines to get you going:

Amanda Marcotte: Sandra Fluke’s Speech Made Republicans Crazy. Which Is Just What the Democrats Want.

For a short period yesterday evening, a moment of panicked confusion broke out among those of us obsessively watching and tweeting the Democratic National Convention, when Sandra Fluke did not go on stage as scheduled. It turns out that we needn’t have worried; convention organizers made an apparently last minute decision to move Fluke’s speech to later in the night, giving her a prime-time audience. It’s a move that indicates Democrats have finally stopped freaking out at the first sign of reactionary histrionics, and instead have embraced the strategy of taking the fight to conservatives.

After decades of playing along with conservatives who dress up their hostility to female sexuality as nothing more than an interest in “life,” Democrats have finally realized that baiting the anti-choice right into showing its misogynist, sex-phobic side may just be a winning strategy.

Marcotte posts some of the rageful Republican tweets at the link.

HuffPo: Unions Hope Democratic National Convention Draws Attention To Plight Of North Carolina Workers

North Carolina passed right-to-work legislation in 1947, barring contracts that require all workers at unionized companies to pay union dues. North Carolina is now the least-unionized state in the country, with about 3 percent of workers belonging to one, according to the Labor Department. The state also bans collective bargaining for public-sector workers. Feeling snubbed, some activists skipped the convention in favor of what was billed as a “shadow convention” for organized labor in Philadelphia.

“This entire saga, from the beginning to today ­– the site selection, the state selection — the way it’s been handled is just nothing more than confirmation to me that the standing of organized labor in the eyes of the Democratic Party is lower than it’s ever been in my time,” said Chris Townsend, political director of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America union, who has been in the labor movement for more than three decades.

CNN Money: Is Wall Street Being Bamboozled by Romney?

FORTUNE — Wall Street is taking quite a pounding at the Democratic National Convention this week as speakers, like Massachusetts Senate hopeful Elizabeth Warren, fire populist missives so inflammatory it would cause even the most liberal banker to cringe. While the speeches are meant to fire up the Democratic base, they are also likely to induce some financiers to double their contributions to Republicans, namely, Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney.

But is that a safe bet? Much of Wall Street’s concerns derive from the passage of the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, even though some of the most controversial aspects of the bill seem permanently lost in regulatory limbo. Going forward, there remain questions as to what, if anything, a Romney Presidency could truly deliver in the next four years that would be so different from a second term Obama presidency. Given that uncertainty, Wall Street could possibly be better off sticking with the devil they already know.

New York Observer: We Can All Breathe a Sigh of Relief: Mitt Romney Has a Plan to End the Housing Crisis

Is Mitt Romney really the man to solve the housing crisis? Well, consider this: Mr. Romney may not have ever struggled “to put food on the table” as folksy politicians are so fond of saying, but he has four houses. Four. So he knows a thing or two about home ownership. And, unlike some homeowners who took out mortgages and couldn’t pay them back, Mr. Romney is wealthy enough not to have to take out mortgages (although there’s a possibility that he did—the man does have the common touch, at times).

In any event, the Republican candidate has revealed his four-point plan while taking a few swings at Obama, like: “the dream of home ownership is out of reach for many Americans as a result of President Obama’s failed policies and stalled economy.”

Because Americans were doing so well with home ownership before Mr. Obama took the helm. Ha! Good one! As though the “stalled economy” and, well, the “economic crisis” weren’t a result of the fact that many Americans were actually really horrible when it came to assessing risk and making responsible choices about home ownership.

The consensus is that it’s not much of a “plan.”

ABC News: Paul Ryan Anticipates and Counters Obama’s Convention Speech Tonight

COLORADO SPRINGS–Just hours before the president takes the stage at the Democratic National Convention, Paul Ryan attempted to counter Obama’s speech by reminding voters in this battleground state of then candidate Obama’s promises in his 2008 speech in Denver.

“Right here in Colorado, four years ago with the Styrofoam Greek columns, the big stadium, the president gave this long speech with lots of big promises,” Ryan said. “He said … that Democrats have a very different measure of what constitutes progress. By those very measurements, his leadership has fallen woefully short.”

Yawn. . . Lots more of Lyin’ Ryan’s psychic predictions at the link. Frankly, after the spanking he got from Bill Clinton last night, the little twerp would do better to just STFU; but I’m hoping he continues making a fool of himself. I guess he doesn’t know that he has lost all credibility with everyone but obsessive Fox watchers.

Detroit News: Conservatives Pull Ads from Michigan

Mitt Romney’s conservative allies are bypassing Michigan with their advertising while stepping up efforts in other battleground states — suggesting campaign strategists don’t believe his road to the White House leads through his native state.

The pro-Romney groups American Crossroads and Americans for Prosperity are pouring nearly $13 million into advertising in key states, indicating they remain eager to lend considerable financial muscle to Romney in states viewed as truly competitive.

There are no presidential campaign ads of any kind airing in Pennsylvania and Michigan, according to information provided by media trackers to the Associated Press.

Nate Silver: The Simple Case for Why Obama Is the Favorite

…our forecast has moved toward President Obama over the past several days. It now gives him about a three-in-four chance of winning the Electoral College on Nov. 6.

I’ll explain a little bit more about how the model comes to that conclusion in a moment, but the intuition behind it is pretty simple:

1. Polls usually overrate the standing of the candidate who just held his convention.
2. Mitt Romney just held his convention. But he seems to have gotten a below-average bounce out of it. The national polls that have come out since the Republican National Convention have shown an almost exact tie in the race.
3. If the polls overrate Mr. Romney, and they show only a tie for him now, then he will eventually lose.
The first point is the simplest of all, but perhaps the most important. There is a lot of focus on the bounce that a candidate gets after his convention — that is, how the polls conducted just after the convention compare with the ones taken immediately beforehand.

Silver predicted the 2008 election results almost perfectly.

I’m looking forward to reading your comments tonight, so bring it!


Mitt Romney Just Doesn’t Get It

Bob Garon and Mitt Romney

This morning on Twitter, I clicked on a link to a video posted by Mansur Gidfar. It’s a recording of a spontaneous conversation between Mitt Romney and a Vietnam veteran named Bob Garon that took place in a Manchester, New Hampshire restaurant on a December morning in 2011.

To me the episode depicted in the video is emblematic of who Mitt Romney is–a stodgy, selfish, self-centered man who sadly is unable to empathize with anyone who doesn’t share his own experiences as a privileged, wealthy, straight white male Mormon.

Romney sat down with Mr. Garon uninvited and began talking to him about Vietnam. He had no idea that Garon was a gay man who was having breakfast with his husband.

On January 1, 2010, New Hampshire legalized same sex marriage and ordered that all civil unions in the state would automatically become legal marriages. There was an effort to repeal the statute that legalized same sex marriage that Mitt Romney supported. That effort failed in March 2012. In New Hampshire’s Democratic governor John Lynch would have vetoed the repeal even if it had passed.

I discovered that this meeting between Romney and Garon was pretty well covered at the time, but somehow I missed it. The NYT Caucus blog covered the interaction on December 12, 2011. After the exchange, Garon summed up his reaction to Romney:

Afterward, Mr. Garon, who legally married another man in June, said Mr. Romney was not getting his vote.

“He told me that I’m not entitled to Constitutional rights,” he said. “I think a man and a woman and a man and a man should be treated equal.”

Adding that while he had been undecided until he chatted with Mr. Romney, Mr. Garon said, “I’m totally convinced today that he’s not going to be my president — at least in my book.”

“This man is ‘No way, Jose,’” he said. “Well, take that ‘No way, Jose’ back to Massachusetts.”

Though Mr. Garon conceded that Mr. Romney had handled his question fairly, giving him the yes or no answer he’d requested, he nonetheless offered an unfavorable prediction for the Republican primary outcome.

“He is not going to make it,” he said. “Because you can’t trust him. I just saw it in his eyes. I judge a man by his eyes.”

Times change. People change.

Romney doesn’t understand that times have changed since he was a prep school bully judging his classmate’s “manliness” back in the 1960s. He and his Gen-X running mate are still living in the past, when straight white males ruled the roost and the rest of us were also-rans. But no more. America is changing, and I don’t think reactionaries like Romney and Ryan are going to be able to stop it.

Just comparing the crowds of delegates at the two parties’ conventions shows how time has flowed onward despite the Republican Party’s reactionary efforts to stop it.

At the Republican Convention, we saw a sea of mostly older white faces, with a few token people of color on the stage and fewer in the audience. We heard mostly negative, messages that excluded those of us who don’t fit the Republican view of what a “real American” should be–including our President.  Even though there was a parade of people on stage talking about Romney’s kindness and generosity, we never heard of his helping people who weren’t like him–those he helped were mostly fellow Mormons as far as I could tell.  We never heard episodes in which he reached out to those outside his own circle.

At the Democratic Convention, we have been seeing a rainbow of faces–people wearing different kinds of clothing, belonging to many cultures, but united in wanting this to be a country in which people care about and for each other–because we’re all in this together. We’ve heard an inclusive, forward-looking message of hope for the future rather than a futile wishes to go back in time to a pristine America that never really existed.

I know which group I want to be part of, and I hope we send Romney and Ryan packing in November. Let them live in their fantasy world if they want to, but we must stop them from forcing their reactionary values on the rest of us.

This is an open thread. I’ll post a live blog later this evening for the third and last night of the Democratic National Convention.


DNC Live Blog 3: Roll Call Vote and Aftermath

Here’s a new thread in case y’all want to stick around. I’m going to stay up a little longer myself. The Big Dawg went on a little too long, as usual–but his speech was still incredibly good.

Here we go with the nomination and roll call.


DNC Live Blog 2: Big Dawg, Elizabeth Warren, and the Roll Call Vote

 

Hi Everyone!  Here’s a fresh thread for the big prime time speeches and the roll call vote. Bloomberg published some excerpts from Bill Clinton’s speech:

“What kind of country do you want to live in?” Clinton will ask, according to excerpts released by Obama’s campaign. “If you want a you’re-on-your-own, winner-take-all society, you should support the Republican ticket. If you want a country of shared prosperity and shared responsibility,” voters should support Obama, he will say.

The president “inherited a deeply damaged economy, put a floor under the crash, began the long hard road to recovery, and laid the foundation for a more modern, more well-balanced economy that will produce millions of good new jobs,” Clinton will say.

Clinton also will talk about the choices he faced during his presidency when Republicans wanted to give tax breaks to companies and the wealthy “to help trickle down” economic benefits and how “it didn’t work then, it’s not going to work now,” Obama campaign manager Jim Messina told reporters today at the convention’s site in Charlotte, North Carolina.

According to Politico, Clinton will ask Americans to give Obama more time to “clean up the GOP mess.”

Bill Clinton will tell delegates at the 2012 Democratic National Convention that Republicans left President Barack Obama “a total mess, he hasn’t finished cleaning it up yet” and that the incumbent president deserves another four years to implement his vision for the country.

In early excerpts of the former president’s remarks, Clinton amplifies on the message Democrats delivered on the first day of the convention Tuesday, describing Obama as a champion of the middle class and Republicans as hostile to the interests of regular people.

MSNBC is saying that President Obama will be in the hall tonight. It’s not known if he’ll go onstage after Clinton’s speech.