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Well, That Was Good

Barack Obama did a lot of things well in his speech tonight. He had a broad theme – Kennedyesque-renewal of American vigor and common purpose – along with plenty of specifics. He inoculated himself against all the Republican attacks that have been made to date – vacuous celebrity, lacking specifics, doesn’t love America. He had plenty of signifiers that he understands white America. He hit John McCain on most of his major policy weaknesses. (Including his explicit, stated support for privatizing Social Security, which for some reason he hasn’t focused on before.)

In particular, Obama did two things I’ve thought he should do weeks ago. (Maybe he was saving them up.) First, he returned to his 2004 Keynote theme of patriotism and unity, and turned it into an argument why McCain’s sleazy attacks against his patriotism are corrosive to the spirit of national purpose he summoned. (I love it when he gets Democrats to chant “U-S-A!”) Second, he framed the Phil Gramm “nation of whiners” remark in exactly the right way – speaking on behalf of the American people. In Obama’s framing, he is with the American people, and John McCain’s economic advisor is disparaging “us.”

I did not like his proposal to eliminate capital gains taxes for small businesses or startups. (More on this later.) Like Mike, I thought he took a needless risk invoking Martin Luther King at the end. He needs white Americans to think of him as a president, not a civil rights leader.

All in all, though, it was a terrific speech.

--Jonathan Chait