THURSDAY NIGHT the Wizard of Words, the Earl of Eloquence, the Raj of Rhetoric, Barack Obama gave what many have described as the Most Important Speech of his career as he accepted the Democratic presidential nomination.
With the polls showing a statistical tie with his rival American war hero, maverick, and elder John McCain, the challenges were daunting. Would he look elitist in front of Greek (or were they Roman)—style columns? Would an army of PUMAs pounce from the shadows and tear him limb from limb? Would the image of Obama speaking in front of 75,000 supporters be a liability—was the good Senator from Illinois too popular? What color pantsuit would he wear?
As late as Thursday afternoon, Democratic officials were testing different strategies to answer those questions. They chose a tightly focused camera shot to minimize the number of columns and supporters shown—no Hitler allusions here. Bear traps were set up behind the stage to catch any PUMAs that had slipped past security. Obama was dressed in an elegant navy pantsuit, matched with a red striped tie. The tie was an especially nice choice—the color was traditional enough to reassure voters, the stripes deftly embodied the change he sought to bring to Washington.
At 10:15, the speech began. Across the country, thousands of young Obama enthusiasts sat around their—TV screens, beer in hand, ready to take a swig anytime the Duke of Discourse uttered those magic words: “hope” and “change.”
Forty-five minutes and 4,695 words later, those thousands of Obama enthusiasts were soberly disappointed. The word “hope” had been uttered a mere four times, “change” earned 16 mentions—hardly enough to get one drunk.
Obama must have figured that a mile high was lofty enough. Instead of uplifting, inspirational rhetoric, he brought us crashing down to Earth with stories of hard-working Americans down on their luck. Instead of cheerful bipartisanship, Obama attacked John McCain and the Republicans with a zeal not seen since Mark Antony slimed Brutus as “an honorable man” time and again. Maybe the mountain air was too thin to support such soaring rhetoric.
But perhaps looking for “hope” and “change” was the wrong approach to drinking in this speech. After all, last week Obama had promised a “workmanlike” speech to offer specific policy proposals. Perhaps Obama enthusiasts would have been better off following Keith Olbermann and swigging at every policy proposal. Olberman counted 29 specific proposals—from lowering taxes on 95% of Americans to ending the country’s dependence on Middle Eastern oil in ten years. Combine that with the 28 specific attacks on John McCain and the Republican record, and you’ve got a good buzz going.
After 67 sips of beer, it’s no wonder they loved it so much. Wolf Blitzer called it “A moment in our history that we’ll never forget.” Talking heads on MSNBC declared it one of the greatest political speeches of all time. Pat Buchanan, Supreme Allied Commander of the Culture Wars, had to be cut off, he couldn’t stop gushing about it.
But the real measure of a speech’s greatness isn’t about what the Liberal Media Elite thinks about it. What matters is did it set out what it intended to do? Were the questions about Barack Obama’s background (Is he really an American?) answered? Does Obama, the arugula-munching elitist really understand the common American better than John “Seven Houses Makes you a Rich POW” McCain? Why do all those Germans love Obama? (They’re obsessed with David Hasselhoff for crying out loud!)
And alas, we shall have to wait until November to find out. But for now, avoided man-eating PUMAs, flummoxed Pat Buchanan, and rocked that navy blue pantsuit and tie, Democrats woke up Friday morning disappointed in their hope-lessness, but feeling good about their chances in November.
Jake Melville is a recent graduate of The George Washington University. His writing has appeared in Slate and the New York Times.
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