Yeah, I was too.
When I turned off the Dem convention Day Three last night, I was looking for that fired-up energy.
Don’t get me wrong, Obama gave a good speech. It had some memorable lines and excellent points, but, as with many of the speeches he’s given in the past few years, I felt like it was geared more toward dialing things down than firing things up. And after we turned off the TV, I didn’t really have any particular feelings about the speech, other than that it was good, not great.
Still, I think it says a lot about him and his approach that his speech slowed me down. I wasn’t typing furiously the way that I did after the Republican convention speakers, or even at the close of the last two days of the DNC. In the morning, I’m chewing over it and still asking myself how I felt about it. The answer is positive, although not necessarily inspired.
The fact that we’ve always known is that Obama is not a grandstander or a demagogue. And he’s not a ranter like me. Now, I love to see that other people are as outraged as I am, that they’re as vexed by the misinformation and obfuscations that have been flying this political season. I like to watch Bill Clinton preach and Jennifer Granholm rip into Romney. Even last night, it was John Kerry, of all people, who was on fire:”Our opponents like to talk about ‘American Exceptionalism,’ but all they do is talk. The only thing exceptional about today’s Republicans is that — almost without exception — they oppose everything that has made America exceptional in the first place.”
And Joe Biden, who’s often painted as a buffoon in the news media, gave a disarmingly heartfelt and stirring populist speech, exhorting folks to look to a future where we promote the “private sector, not the privileged sector.” Although I worry about Bob Woodward’s new book being a thorn in Obama’s side, it seems his portrayal of Biden confirms what I’ve always suspected: that he’s savvier than you think, and doesn’t care what his public image is as long the job gets done.
BUT, none of this is Obama’s style. We could see that from Day One of his presidency in his inaugural address. Last night’s speech, to be honest, wasn’t full of soaring rhetoric, or even broad, sweeping ideas. His sauciest one liner–“Feel a cold coming on? Take two tax cuts, roll back some regulations, and call us in the morning!”– was delivered with more exasperation than charm.
However, I think it was designed to reframe the entire conversation and in its own understated way, re-entrench (if I may coin a word) his supporters, by reminding them of what we like about him. He’s honest, unafraid to face tough realities, works hard for what he believes in, and is humble enough that everything doesn’t need to be about him. Some of what I thought were his best lines last night underscored that:
“I won’t pretend the path I’m offering is quick or easy. I never have. You didn’t elect me to tell you what you wanted to hear. You elected me to tell you the truth.”
“So you see, the election four years ago wasn’t about me. It was about you. My fellow citizens – you were the change.”
“And while I’m proud of what we’ve achieved together, I’m far more mindful of my own failings, 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.'”
“America, I never said this journey would be easy, and I won’t promise that now. Yes, our path is harder – but it leads to a better place. Yes our road is longer – but we travel it together. We don’t turn back. We leave no one behind. We pull each other up.”
Andrew Sullivan at the Daily Beast had it right, I think, when he said, “I don’t think it was a game-changer. I do think it sets an optimistic tone for the campaign and a stark choice for Americans this fall. This convention was much better than last week’s. Clinton’s speech alone was worth the whole thing. But this will now be decided in the debates. They will be more than usually vital. I suspect Obama kept his waverers on his side tonight, fired up his base, but failed to break away. We’ll see.”
The reaction from around the blogosphere is pretty much in agreement. James Fallows at the Atlantic says, “I thought it was not one of his best but that it did the job.” And at the NY Times, David Brooks’ assessment is : “Thursday night’s speech showed the character and his potential. It didn’t show audacity and the fulfillment of that potential.” And Howard Kurtz at the Daily Beast says: “It was not Obama’s greatest speech, nor his most passionate. It was, instead, a grown-up speech, a substantive speech, one that hit high notes but never soared to the heights. Whatever afterglow it created may soon fade as voters again confront the realities of the shaky economy, and the fresh unemployment figures due out Friday morning.”
So here’s the thing though. Mixed in with my musings on the Obama speech, I was also pondering the post of a Facebook friend, a Conservative Baptist I’ve known since high school, who says that she is hiding the posts of some people that she knows until this election is over. I have to assume that I’m on that list, since I merrily post political items on my timeline all the time. Add to that the request from another friend that I not send her emails any longer because “politics just isn’t her thing.”
Now, I’m not offended, but it brings home a reality that I think we have to face up to. People who are Republican supporters are just as unlikely to change their minds about anything to do with Obama as I am to change my mind about Romney. A few weeks ago there was a report on NPR which I can’t find now, but the upshot of it was that for those of us who have a partisan bent, whether it be left or right, it is nearly impossible to make us change our minds now. But there are surprisingly few people, even among independents who HAVEN’T yet made up their minds.
Was this dog-and-pony show going to change the opinions of anyone out there? Nope. Neither convention could ever have done that and frankly,neither the RNC nor the DNC was without cringe-worthy moments. On balance, I think the Dems came out ahead, despite the wrangling over putting “God” and Jerusalem in the platform, and despite the embarrassing move out of the stadium venue for the last night. After all, the Republicans lost a whole day to the hurricane, had to contend with Clint Eastwood talking to a chair, and were raked over the coals for Paul Ryan’s factually-challenged speech.
Instead, I think we have to use these moments to remind ourselves of why it’s important that we not get lazy about this election, why it’s important that everyone gets out there to vote. Why it’s important that we refute the lies of course, and battle the misinformation wherever we find it, and take this election seriously.