Having had the night to sleep on the evening’s affairs in Denver, even though many of my co-authors here have already done yeoman’s work on the subject, I would reflect on some of the changes I saw in the Democrats’ presentation. Going essentially in reverse order, one of the most revealing moments of the evening for me was Joe Biden’s speech. While I have been critical of Obama’s choice in selecting him, after listening to his speech I have to say I’m at least beginning to “get it.” Biden stepped up at what may be one of the most high pressure, glaring moments of public scrutiny in a career already full of such moments, and showed me something I wasn’t expecting. His easy, almost casual, “aww shucks” attitude made him seem to be a very real, connected person.
And that attitude made it all the more powerful when he went on the attack against John McCain. (Something which has been totally lacking during the first two nights of the convention.) Personally I thought he could have done even more – where were the mentions of Dick Cheney? Guantanamo? – but his delivery was spot on and hit all the right notes. If Obama was looking for an effective attack dog who could do the job without looking like a scowling, unpleasant Cheney type figure, he may well have found that person in Joe Biden. Yes, there will be those who will try to focus on inconsequential details such as mixing up “brigade” with “battalion” but it’s hard to picture any serious critic saying this was anything less than a powerful, effective speech.
Obama may well need a sure-footed attack dog, too. During the early part of the Summer, McCain stuck to talking about the issues, primarily energy, education and the economy, and Obama stubbornly held on to a slim but steady lead of five to ten points in the polls. Then, during the last month, the media arm of Big Mac’s campaign appeared to throw the issues under the bus (except for drilling, which gained him some traction) and began slinging industrial size buckets of mud at Obama to see what might stick. And that finally moved the polls, with McCain pulling into a tie. Obama will need to find a way to swing back or he’s going to end up – alongside Hillary Clinton – as a high value answer in future editions of Trivial Pursuit. Biden last night looked like he may well fill that role effectively.
One of the real surprises (perhaps because of the highly anticipated expectations of failure) was the speech by Bill Clinton. We will see some of our friends on the Right struggling to “read between the lines” and stir more trouble, but Clinton delivered above and beyond the limit in making it clear that he and his wife were on board with Obama’s nomination. This was aided by the doubtless painful moment when Hillary cut the role call short and put her personal seal of approval on Obama’s candidacy.
On a side note, what were the Democrats’ thinking in putting John Kerry up on the stage? His reception by the audience was tepid at best, and do they really want to remind the country of the 2004 election? You don’t feature the horse who finished last at the following year’s Kentucky Derby. Still, that one happened during the off hours and nobody saw the speech unless they had C-SPAN 17 on at the time. But really… John Kerry?
As for tonight, Obama’s greatest challenge does not come from the Republicans, but from the almost unbelievable expectations which have been set by his own team. He is speaking on the anniversary of MLK’s “I have a dream” speech. He will be standing in front of columns which are reminiscent of either Washington state buildings or Greco-Roman temples, depending on whom you ask. He is moving from the convention center to Invesco Field, one of the biggest venues in the country. They have been building expectations up for this speech since June, and now he will have to deliver. Obama is still widely considered one of the great political orators of this generation, but this may be a bit much for even his delivery skills to overcome.
Then again, I’m wrong more than I’m right in the prediction game lately. Maybe he’ll still come out and surprise us all.