Wednesday, July 28, 2004
Like every person who watched the keynote address last night, I was stunned. It was clearly the best political speech since Cuomo's in 1984. And that sets a pretty high bar. It looks like we have the next liberal superstar on our hands now. And ANOTHER good orator for our team. Yeah-rah.
But rather than join the chorus of hyperbole, I believe it behooves us to analyze why Obama's speech was so inspiring and effective. The more we learn from it(and even improve on it), the better off we'll be.
First was Barack's presentational style. Calm, dignified, with sincerity- he had the perfect pitch. He used changes in stance, tone, and gesture for emphasis, which is actually quite difficult to do well. He has mastered the art of delivery.
The speech itself was brilliantly structured. It began in a conversational manner, and with a focus on the personal, introducing this little known figure to his audience. I think this is actually a much better way to establish rapport than humor, because the latter is so rarely done well.
Obama then slowly increased the force of his speech, incrementally reaching a crescendo of passion. This slow change in tempo was reflected not only in presentation, but also in content, as Obama moved towards his conclusion. He tied his biography to his message, grounded in a liberal conception of patriotism. He then extended his own story to the story of the country, of how patriotism consists in fulfilling our common dreams, not just lauding them.
He did do that thing I hate, telling stories of people he's met, and how their experiences reflect his message. Frankly it's too maudlin and hackneyed.
Obama made a concession to anti-government rhetoric, which was understandable, but I thought a bit timid. Like a lot on the left, I don't think we can make real traction until we rebut the charges against public action. I think it is quite possible to re-frame the issue by reminding people that they are the government.
But Obama then linked the faith in America's possibility, and the necessity of action to fulfill that possibility, to Kerry's candidacy. Which after all was the whole point. It also gives Kerry a good set-up for giving his own message, in more specific terms. I also thought Obama brilliantly re-framed the Iraq issue, as Andrew Sullivan has noted.
But my favorite part of the speech had real content, if only symbolic content (sorry Kevin Drum). It was where he contrasted individualism with the value of community, which remains the left's strongest rhetorical device. He even transformed that into an indictment of the media and the republicans with the "United States" section. So there is a call not just for party unity, but national unity in the face of abstract and superficial divisions.
And that is a message to build on.