You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

My Problems With The Speech

It was almost inevitable that Obama's acceptance speech would be a bit of a letdown. The simple fact is that no one, not even him, could top the magisterial peroration on race that he made in March. Plus some of the novelty has worn off.The speech was hardly a dud. But if the idea was to put the kibosh on the charge that people--or at least a certain crucial subset thererof--don't know "who he is," then the ones who were having a hard time gleaning that are still in the dark.

Who, for example, told Obama as well as his wife that it was important to stress that they value "hard work"? Presumably it surprises none of us that someone as close to the presidency as Obama, especially having been as long a shot as he once was, knows at least a little something about working hard. And, out of the various potshots taken at Michelle Obama, "lazy" has not been one of them.

I suppose the idea is to show solidarity with the older, white, blue-collar voter whom the Obama campaign has found so elusive. But I doubt hearing Obama give a shout-out to hard work even began to change the mind of, say, the laid-off plant worker in Erie, Pennsylvania.

Sure, Obama offered that man more--tax credits to businesses that stay in the United States instead of moving overseas, penalties to companies that hire illegal aliens and depress wages, and lots of quick anecdotes about (white) working class people down on their luck.

But he never came off as any more genuinely on fire about the coal miner's daughter than he ever has. It isn't his fault. He doesn't look like her, he has never lived anything much resembling her life, and he doesn't sound like her. That last point is important: I suspect that Bill Clinton's visceral appeal to black people is stimulated primarily by his dialect. If his voice were John Kerry's, then saxophone or not, no one would have called him America's first black anything.

And yet ... despite the sound-bite phraseology, the speech was diligently reflective--vintage Obama, and just what is keeping his poll numbers down. One minute calling for poor people to be responsible, the next minute calling for a government that works for us rather than against us. One minute promising to dock companies for hiring illegals, the next minute saying that we shouldn't separate immigrant mothers from their kids. It might be good sense, but it's weak rhetoric.

The very ordinariness of the speech was part of its real importance, however. Who would have thought, even as late as four years ago, that there would be a political convention led by a black presidential nominee so deeply entrenched in the hearts of millions that he could have the audience on its feet repeatedly with just a workaday speech?

One workaday aspect of the speech was Obama's fondness for referring to moving ahead rather than backwards, and one "forward" aspect of the whole event was the beyond-race, miscegenated air of the whole affair; it was caf