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Posted by on Aug 26, 2008 in Politics | 22 comments

Quote Of The Day: Michelle Obama Saved Democratic Convention


The political Quote of the Day comes from CNN senior political analyst David Gergen, a Republican who has served as an adviser to Presidents from both parties:

The Democrats should be enormously grateful to Michelle Obama: after a very slow start to the convention, punctuated by a moving tribute to Teddy Kennedy and his own rousing speech, the first evening was in danger of becoming an entirely lost opportunity. But Michelle rescued it.

She was extraordinary, talking in ways that were both conversational — always welcome in people’s living room — but also inspiring. She spoke in ways that reached out to people of all backgrounds. Democrats should be both proud and grateful.

The problem: each party has one shot to do a convention that quickly-embeds its key campaign message the minds of a) all who watch b) journalists who cover it so the conventional wisdom can be shaped in the party’s favor, c) talk show hosts, bloggers and other commentators the next day.

Call your favorite bookie now and place money on the GOP being on-message from second one. The Kennedy speech was a special, poignant historical moment made all the more dramatic due to news that it was 50-50 whether Kennedy’s doctors would give him permission to speak. But in hard-nosed political terms, it didn’t advance the party’s vote-getting or opposition-defining agenda.

Legendary Democratic strategist James Carville says the same thing but a bit more bluntly:

Speaking on CNN, Carville said the party was too soft in its attacks on John McCain Monday night — the same mistake, Carville says, Democrats made at the 2004 convention.

“The way they planned it tonight was supposed to be sort of the personal — Michelle Obama will talk about Barack Obama personally, Ted Kennedy was a very personal, emotional speech,” Carville said. “But I guarantee on the first night of the Republican Convention, you’re going to hear talk about Barack Obama, commander-in-chief, tax cuts, et cetera, et cetera.”

“You haven’t heard about Iraq or John McCain or George W. Bush — I haven’t heard any of this. We are a country that is in a borderline recession, we are an 80 percent wrong-track country. Health care, energy — I haven’t heard anything about gas prices,” Carville also says. “Maybe we are going to look better Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. But right now, we’re playing hide the message.”

Will the party move out of unintentional “hide the message” mode? Will Bill and Hillary Clinton use their speeches to advance the party cause and Obama candidacy, or will their speeches largely be most newsworthy and quoted for what they say about each other or what pundits note they don’t say about Obama?

The bottom line:

Don’t. Expect. The. Republicans. To. Under-Use. A. Single. Day.

NOTE: Due to a technical glitch when posting the code was messed up the first version and the headline came out garbled in the second. We regret the errors and they’ve been fixed.

MSNBC’s First Read touches on this issue as well:

For Democratic partisans and those who love feel-good convention moments, it’s hard to see how the Republicans could duplicate last night, particularly with first-night speakers George W. Bush and Dick Cheney (then again, they won’t try — instead they’ll keep their eye on the Obama ball).

FR also says this:

As we’ve noted before, Obama has three goals at this convention: 1) making contrasts with McCain, 2) filling in his biography, and 3) uniting the party. Last night, the convention attempted to begin dealing with all three issues. Early in the evening, viewers were treated to a taste of some anti-McCain speeches; of course, only C-SPAN viewers may have received the full impact of those diatribes. As for the other two goals, between Kennedy and Michelle, the campaign can claim it made progress on unity (don’t the Clinton-Obama rifts seem petty after seeing Teddy?) and on biography (Michelle O. was as pitch perfect as she can be in presenting her story, but if there’s one critique of her speech is that it was more about her than Barack, but maybe that was the point.) As for the attempts to contrast with McCain, the GOP campaign and other strategists we’ve communicated with believe McCain went a lot more unscathed than, say, Obama will be after Night One of the Republican convention.

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  • Is it always necessary to do what conventional wisdom says? Do you have to attack, attack, attack Day 1? Or do you survey the political landscape and address what your candidate has been attacked on:

    1. His supposed hatred of America.
    2. His so-called “elitism”
    3. His “foreign-ness” (for Pete’s sake)
    4. His supposed radical nature (wife included)

    I was pleasantly surprised at the way the Dems handled the first day. And Nancy Pelosi did give the “meat” that everyone wanted. And Carville has lost me. He’s bitter that he can’t bite someone’s head off in the spotlight.

  • Jim_Satterfield


    You beat me to it. Seriously. Your post is so right on the money. Isn’t one of the points of the Obama campaign that more than a few of us are weary of that same old style of politics? Isn’t that what is bringing out so many supporters for him that haven’t voted before? I think so.

  • DLS

    This was only the first day of the convention! The “experts” are engaging in fiction. And don’t overreact to it and ancitipate a good GOP convention. All odds are against it!

  • jwest

    If there is a worse public speaker (George Bush included) than Nancy Pelosi, I don’t know who it would be.

    At least she is going full speed ahead with her plan to eliminate fossil fuels and drilling by using natural gas.

  • If the Democrats were 100% negative, like the Republicans, we’d all hear about how the Dem’s don’t have anything to offer the country besides not-being-Republicans. When they offer a positive vision, then we hear that they are off message and not attacking enough.

    Somehow I doubt our “liberal media” will scrutinize the Republicans in the same way.

  • qdcg

    JWest, the only person worst than Pelosi as a public speaker, speaks next week. John McCain. “Republicains” (noted “cains”) are scrambling to find a way to have him come off better than he did when he cliched the nomination. Good Luck.

  • DLS

    J. West: Claire McAskill (sp?) and other “lesser lights” (more cruelly, “fluff and filler”) were less moving or appealing than Pelosi. (That included Leach, who had a flat presentation and got little applause but made as good a Republican-at-the-Dem-convention-bashing-the-current-GOP speech as could be made.) Not everyone can be the headline or top-line speaker at all times every day.

    Note I am not defending Pelosi much or claiming she is a good, much less great, speaker. She stumbled a bit (as did Teddy Kennedy, but nobody cared about Ted’s stumbles; they were all glad he made it to the convention and onto the stage!) and her smile and frozen hair were a bit much. (My brother is a particular non-fan of her and had more to say in her disfavor last night, but we needn’t pile on here on her or on Hillary Clinton, either, prematurely.)

    I’ve compared this better convention to past Democratic circuses. Please consider the 1992 convention. Patricia Schoeder was simply a stupid babbler (meant in some way to represent Women [tm]? My God…)

  • DLS

    Chris, you’re being inaccurate and illogical again. Brake that temper. If the Dems do go mainly or wholly on the attack, yes, they’ll be criticized for being like — the GOP this year, which has been almost exclusively negative toward the Dems. If the Dems offer what “progressives” consider to be a truly positive vision (what they will do is appeal to liberals of many kinds, obviously), others will criticize their positions. It’s up to libs and Dems like Begala to say the Dems aren’t mean enough (when they’re normally more than mean enough, often too mean, in fact).

    The liberal media (quotes correctly omitted), who have been campaigning on Obama’s behalf being the mainly libs and Dems that they are, attack McCain when he blunders, and ignores him when he does nothing, at least nothing wrong at a given moment. Suppression of anything he does (or does right or well) is common — out of sight, out of (the voters’) mind. _Everyone_ has written off the McCain campaign and the GOP this year and any lackluster coverage of the GOP convention is due to disinterest when not contempt or hatred on the media’s part.

    As of now, the only reason to watch the GOP convention is out of a perverse form of entertainment (Gitmo Lite) and in the morbid hope that the GOP will be left in worse, not better, shape afterward.

  • DLS

    John McCain. Dynamic! Energetic! Transformational!

    OK, try again…

  • The liberal media

    Do you even watch or read actual news coverage? I see and read an awful lot of Karl Rove, Bill Bennett, Pat Buchanan, Richard Cohen, Tom Friedman, Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck.

    The conservative to liberal ratio among opinion makers on tv and in print has got to be at least 2 to 1.

  • kritt11

    I really like David Gergen- he’s one of the last of a dying breed— moderate Republicans who can analyze without constantly attacking politicians from the other party. If you watch his commentary on CNN he is thoughtful and never incindiary.

  • Silhouette

    Yes, “Michelle O’s” [like Jackie O?] speech was moving all right.

    My daughter and I were nearly moved to vomiting when Michelle started almost fake crying. I thought her speech was rushed, over-emphatic and false. Aside from the gastric area, it didn’t reach deeply into me at all. And actually I felt sorry for his daughters when they kept saying “hi daddy!” and he was less than emphatic in his reply back to them. It’s like their going off-script was seriously screwing with his MO and he was doing his best to handle the situation so that no one would notice.

    We noticed.

    And it just goes back to the empty suit analogy. The Obamas act like vessels that anything can be poured into on script. I liked Michelle when she was a hard-ass. She had a personality and grit. Now she’s just a makeover, an empty vessel just like her husband who shucked 40-something years of hard won tenacity for a blithe role as “demur first ladyness”.

    So yeah, we got to “know” Michelle all right. But not the way I’d hoped for.

  • jchem


    Something tells me that Michelle Obama could have risen someone from the dead and you still would find fault with it. Is there anything, I mean anything, that you don’t find fault with in the Obamas? I mean, I appreciate your energy and your willingness to defend your comments, but you just seem to come off as so negative all the time.

    “This was only the first day of the convention!”

    Well said DLS. If she saved the convention on the first night, then it’s all downhill from here.

  • DLS

    I don’t watch much television but when I do observe it, I actually comprehend what is happening. (I listen to the radio frequently when on the road.) The liberal bias, constantly dishonestly denied by the “corporate right-wing media” [sic] crowd, is evident just as it is found in government and in academia. Most journalists and editors are liberal, not conservative.

    Those on the extreme left, well — they are distorted. This was similar to the dud show I heard earlier this afternoon (imagining an evil corporate right-wing conspiracy by television, especially FOX, to intentionally depict the audience as bored or disinterested during Michelle Obama’s speech, which is complete nonsense; angry that what little criticism of the speech was about the need for some treatment of the issues rather than what the lefties on the show wanted, complete emphasis on touchy-feely personality heartwarming stuff). It is evenmore like what I’ve read before on proportional representation, by a “progressive” who puts the Democratic Party leadership slightly right of center and Reagan and Thatcher, predictably and ridiculously “far right” [sic].

  • You must remember that last night’s theme was “One Nation.” You can question the notion of choosing that as a theme to begin with, but, once chosen, it can’t turn into a red meat fest. I’m sure there could have been a more exciting way to communicate the message, but we should also consider how schizophrenic it would have seemed to have 2 hours of Zell Millerism followed by the emotional Kennedy and Michelle moments.

    I look forward to Hillary kicking butt tonight. Regardless of what the PUMAs expect, I’m sure she’ll be taking to McCain (after all, New York is watching). The theme of “Renewing America’s Promise” offers many opportunities to explain the way in which this administration has failed and how McCain is a continuation of those policies. We shall see.

  • SteveK

    DLS said: “Chris, you’re being inaccurate and illogical again. Brake that temper.


    Why you seem to have a need to come across as a jerk is beyond me.

    When you lighten up on the nasty you points come across better, even to those of us who seldom agree with you.

  • DLS

    For one thing, there is no such thing as you describe in your first sentence.

    And I can fight back, even if at times I prefer defusing things with humor instead.

  • Silhouette


    Something tells me that Michelle Obama could have risen someone from the dead and you still would find fault with it.”

    Actually, if she had stuck with her original personality, I’d have been fine with that. The thing is, she didn’t. And that is alarming since one of the biggest worries even the far left will talk about with the Obama campaign is his/their seeming chameleon-like adapting to whichever way the wind blows.

    I grew up around black women. They made up about half the population of schools I attended. One thing that I almost never saw in them was cowed or submissive behavior. In fact, one the things that really endeared them to me and vice versa is that they matter-of-factly called things as they saw them. A fresh and bracing approach to human interaction. I loved it. I love New Yorkers for the same reason. I’ll meet a New Yorker and instantly I prefer their company to uptight people I usually encounter.

    Seeing “Michelle O” acting…yes…ACTING..submissive and weepy was enough to raise up the chum from my stomach. Her hairstyle mimicing Jackie O’s is ridiculous. As if. Michelle O is no Jackie O. And why should she even try to fool people with that? Obama is no Kennedy. He is no King Jr. He is an empty and waffling suit, and so is, apparently, his wife at this point.

    Between the two I’d hoped at least she would’ve stayed with something tangible. It just shows how easily these two can be manipulated by outside forces. At the whitehouse those forces will be BigOil and the GOP.

  • Kathryn

    Sil, your hatred of women (even Hillary) is astounding. Clearly PUMA’s have an agenda that promotes infidelity (yeah Bill!) and mocks responsible fatherhood (Obama loves his daughters, that just proves what an empty suit he is). Clearly you are a Republican troll.

    “At the whitehouse those forces will be BigOil and the GOP.” I know they are happy to have you on the payroll.

  • Yes, it takes a sensitive and knowing reading of Black women to classify us all as sassy.

  • Kathryn

    Shorter Silhoutte,”I wish Michelle Obama gave a firery speech so I can denounce her as an angry threatening Black woman, but she didn’t so I will trash her for being a loving wife and mother.”

    H/T Sadly No’s take down of Richard Cohen

  • kritt11

    Good for Michelle- last night was a ground-breaking moment in the Democratic party and in electoral history– don’t let a few disgruntled conservatives spoil it!

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