Thursday, August 28, 2008

Dem. convention - the last night: almost-real-time notes

10:10 Eastern Time: Obama is onstage after a rather pedestrian intro by Dick Durbin and a biographical video. Earlier, one of the "citizen speakers," Barney Smith of Indiana, delivers the best line of the night so far: "We need a president who puts Barney Smith before Smith Barney."

10:35: Obama pledges to end dependence on Middle East oil in 10 years. Repeats the now-familiar 5-million-new-green-jobs line. Goes on to education, health care, equal pay for equal work. Says will go through federal budget "line by line, eliminating programs that don't work," making others more efficient. No explicit pledges re deficit reduction, however; probably wise. Foreign policy: face "threats of the future," not grasp "ideas of the past." Is ready to debate McCain on who is best suited to be commander in chief. Patriotism not the exclusive preserve of one party. Repeats by-now familiar positions on "responsible" withdrawal from Iraq, more focus on Afghanistan, tracking down OBL, etc.

10:55: The conclusion begins by invoking MLK's 1963 dream speech; this is the emotional high point of the address, probably. Also interesting is the statement, somewhat earlier: "I realize that I am not the likeliest candidate for this office. I don't have the typical pedigree." Obama makes this sound matter-of-fact, neither boastful nor falsely modest. This is really the only even oblique reference in the speech to the historic character of the occasion. "This campaign is not about me; it's about you." Now this formulation I didn't like quite as much; it is a bit too pat.

In sum, the speech mixed some programmatic detail, substantive but not personal criticism of McCain, calls for civil campaign discourse, and, frankly, fairly standard rhetorical appeals to common purpose, individual and mutual responsibility, 'the American spirit,' etc. In this last respect it was a bit too exceptionalist for my taste; see this earlier post. However, that was only to be expected.

Let Richard Norton Smith, commenting on PBS, have the last word: "This may not be a speech that will be carved in granite, but that doesn't matter if Obama gets to give the inaugural address next January."

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