Strong, strong speech — I thought it was excellent. This is why he got nominated — and he came through. There was nothing weak or amateur about it. More importantly — and quite characteristically — Obama’s speech defied and shattered the conceptual boxes that pundits have been trying to squeeze him into.
It was a perfect combination of several things. It was inspiring, but not abstract. It made a concrete populist case for change. It drew a sharp tough contrast with McCain — not merely on the economy, but on national security as well. It’s always hard to know how these things will play out, but he did everything he could possibly do tonight. And I think it will play well.
Ironically enough, I think Obama’s speech benefited from the GOP’s preemptive attacks, which lowered expectations. We heard a lot about the stage, and the celebrity BS, and the dreamy abstract words. People — lots of Dems included — were sort of bracing to be let down, or to be embarrassed by the stage.
But that’s not at all what happened — indeed, the somewhat negative narrative going in made the speech seem even better. Because people have been complaining about a lack of specifics, the speech seemed even more concrete. Because of the pre-existing celebrity narrative, his biographical video — and the biographical bits of his speech — seemed even more poignant and real. Because people had called him timid, his attacks seemed even more powerful and striking. Indeed, some of the most powerful moments involved Obama turning McCain’s own words against him. For instance, I thought this was great:
I don't know what kind of lives John McCain thinks that celebrities lead, but this has been mine. These are my heroes. Theirs are the stories that shaped me. And it is on their behalf that I intend to win this election and keep our promise alive as President of the United States.
The speech also illustrates why Steve Schmidt may have learned too much from 2004. He — and his mentor Rove — believe in making elections about “small things.” And sometimes that works. But when you base your entire campaign on such trivial ridiculousness like “celebrity,” then you become a victim of your own hand when the ambition and power of a speech like tonight's put those tactics in their proper perspective. The McCain campaign seemed small and petty tonight — it has nothing to say about the large yet concrete issues discussed tonight.
The amazing thing about Obama has been his capacity to grow. I heard David Gergen say that Obama appears to be growing into the Presidency. It sure looked like that tonight. And I think the GOP has underestimated him — it’s going to take more than “celebrity” now.
In short, great speech.