It's been a week or so since I've heard Obama's stump speech, so maybe this is old news.  But -- wow -- he is really going after John McCain.  And he's doing a damn fine job of it.

He started by honoring McCain's service, with all apparent sincerity, and then pivoted quickly to this line: "John McCain has the wrong priorities -- because they are bound to the policies of the past." He then promised "a clear choice," tying McCain to the Bush tax cuts and, in particular, the war in Iraq: "John McCain won't be able to say I ever supported this war in Iraq, because I opposed it from the start. Senator McCain said the other day we mght be mired for a hundred years in iraq. A hundred years -- which is reason enough not to give him four years in the White House."**

The rest of the speech was Obama at its best: Compared to his early speeches, he's far more deft at weaving policy into his promises of movement-building. As I said previously, where he used to talk about change for change's sake, now he talks about specific changes -- and how he intends to build a popular mandate for those changes.

He's also doing a nice job of mixing the old Clintonian theme of rights and responsibliity.  Talking about his proposals for college tuition assistance, coupled with national service, he promsied, "We'll invest in you, you invest in your country, together we'll move forward, that's what we dream of."

Towards the end of the speech, he returned to his theme of "yes we can" -- but in a way different than I had heard before. (Again, maybe he's been doing this lately and I just missed it.)  He tied that theme to all the great movements in American history -- the revolutionaries who fought the British for independence, the abolitionists who crusaded against slavery, the Greatest Generation who served in World War II, the Civil Rights movement, and so on.  Not only did this cloak his ideas in the mantle of patriotism, which is always a good thing, but linked them -- once again -- to tangible, pivotal changes in American life, which is precisely what his campaign needs to be promising.

One final note -- and please forgive a little theatrical commentary here.  I've had the opportunity to do some public speaking lately. And I've found, as I'm sure others have, that there are some nights when you are on and some when you are off -- some nights when you feel it and some nights when you just don't.  I suppose it's like any other performance art or sport in that way.  

Well, tonight I thought Obama felt it.  He was at turns funny and poignant, cool and yet energized.  I thought it was his best speech yet.*

*Yea, I think I said that last time.  Why do I think I'll be saying it again soon? 

 --Jonathan Cohn