Barack Obama gave either one of the greatest speeches since Kennedy, a symphony of issues orchestrated by a virtuoso, or he provided a laundry list of liberal issues in a style that failed to match the pomp and pageantry of the setting.
Which it was depended on whether you were watching the pundit on CNN or Fox News, and I’ll let you decide which report came from which. Enough said there.
Turns out the neo-classical set didn’t come across as particularly imposing or pretentious on TV. The event was large enough and momentous enough to fill the venue, while the set seemed appropriate to that grand scale.
What I found troubling, though, was a duotone image of Obama on a poster that appeared a couple of times in background shots and reminded me of a poster of one of those Cold War Eastern European leaders who got elected unanimously…or else.
Obama worked television into his acceptance speech on a couple of occasions, which I mention to justify all the other observational stuff I get to talk about.
In arguing for "individual and mutual responsibility," a particularly attractive concept if you were asking me, Obama said that "government can’t turn off the TV and make a child do their homework."
He has told B&C that he favored parental responsibility and technological controls over government regulation of content, so I was glad to hear him echo that sentiment in this reference to responsibility.
But that was not his first TV reference. In arguing that two terms of Republican policies were sufficient, he said it was time to stand up and say: "Eight Is Enough."
The Obama speech may have been too "workmanlike" for some, but one of his goals was to connect with a TV audience in middle America watching from chairs with long wooden handles on the side and cupholders in the arms (and, yes, that would include me at one time or another). In that, I think he succeeded.
The rhetoric didn’t really soar until the end, when Obama evoked the 45th anniversary of the Martin Luther King "I Have a Dream" speech, but it didn’t need to and probably wasn’t meant to.
Senator Obama did not have the best line of the night, however, which was instead delivered by Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, himself a former presidential candidate.
Richardson set up the line by ticking off the issues on which Senator John McCain had changed sides, including immigration and global warming, then provided the kicker (paraphrase here, but close): "The senator may be buying $200 shoes, but we will be paying for his flip-flops." Priceless.
It was one of those "wish I had written that" lines for anyone who has ever written a speech. Better than the line I was mulling had I been a Democratic speechwriter, which was: "We Democrats talk about passing the torch to a new generation of leaders. President Bush is preparing to pass a torch, too. You know, the one he used to burn through record surplusses and inflame anti-American sentiment throughout the globe." And no, I’m not taking sides in the election, just angling for a speechwriting job somewhere.
A pet peeve from the coverage last night were the repeated references on CNN to the enthusiasm for Obama as "drinking the Kool-Aid." That is a reference to people, many of them black, who followed a charismatic leader to their horrible doom, and image the will stick with me forever thanks to the TV footage from Jonestown. It strikes me as a jarring and unfortunate generic for the wild exhuberance of Democratic faithful amazed and overjoyed that they had nominated the first African American to the top spot on a major ticket.
Best name of the convention goes to the vice presidential nominee’s mom: Katherine Eugenia Finnegan Biden. It evoked the names of incorrigable kids in children’s verse collections. You know (and with apologies to A.A. Milne):
Katherine Eugenia Finnegan Biden jumped off the roof of the shed
Katherine Eugenia Finnegan Biden bounced on the edge of the bed
Katherine Eugenia Finnegan Biden said she was sorry, and then
Katherine Eugenia Finnegan Biden did it all over again.
Oh, and when I last wrote about the convention, the Clinton’s dominated. They were nowhere to be found Thursday and the stage was entirely Obama’s. Al Gore spoke about global warming and how none of the problems of the past eight years would have cropped up if he had been elected, but his delivery was so rapid-fire that it was tough to keep up with. He seemed to be saying a lot of important things well, so I would recommend getting a copy of the speech, then read it with all the pauses he left out.