If you are totally in the tank for Obama, no doubt you loved the speech and thought it was one of the greatest in history. That’s fine. I’m glad you’re proud of your candidate and believe he did a great job.
But you will forgive me if my own, somewhat more honest and analytical take on what Obama said doesn’t quite match your gushing, effusive, unrealistic assessment.
It was a very good political speech and unmatched political theater. As I pointed out in my post on the Top 10 American Speeches of all Time, there are three elements that make a great speech. The first is the moment in time when the speech is delivered. The second is the venue where it is delivered. And finally, the words themselves must be as powerful when read as they are when spoken.
Obama did very well with all three, although the last element dragged down the overall ranking a bit. Without a doubt, the moment in history was there – first black man to accept the nomination of a major party is a huge historical deal and is one of those identifying moments in history; a “hinge” of history, if you will.
The venue was good but more because it was the Democratic convention and because of the number of people watching it rather than the speech having a grand backdrop like an inaugural address or King at the Lincoln Memorial. (As a convention speech having a lasting impact, it fell far short of Kennedy’s 1980 speech or – love it or not – Pat Buchanan’s 1992 barn burner, not to mention Bryan’s “Cross of Gold” stemwinder in 1896.)
Where the speech failed the test of historically “great” were the words themselves. In places, it soared. In others, it was just liberal boilerplate. Rereading it this morning, I was struck by how ordinary it truly was. There was hardly a policy proposal we haven’t heard from Democrats over the past 2 decades. To say that this represents “change” is arguable.
So not one of the great speeches of all time but a very good address that accomplished some of the things Obama set out to do. Obama. Obama got “specific” in the sense that he attached some concrete proposals to the idea of “change.” But he was no more forthcoming in how he was going to achieve this “change” as he has been in the past.
Case in point:
That’s the promise we need to keep. That’s the change we need right now.
So—so let me—let me spell out exactly what that change would mean if I am president.
Change means a tax code that doesn’t reward the lobbyists who wrote it, but the American workers and small businesses who deserve it.
You know, unlike John McCain, I will stop giving tax breaks to companies that ship jobs overseas, and I will start giving them to companies that create good jobs right here in America.
I’ll eliminate capital gains taxes for the small businesses and start-ups that will create the high-wage, high-tech jobs of tomorrow.
I will—listen now—I will cut taxes—cut taxes—for 95 percent of all working families, because, in an economy like this, the last thing we should do is raise taxes on the middle class.
1. What does it mean when he says he will give tax breaks to companies that create “good jobs right here in America?” Eliminating capital gains for small business that create high tech jobs sounds fine but we are talking about jobs in the thousands not millions. And is that part of his plan to give tax breaks to companies that “create good jobs right here in America.” What’s a “good” job? What kind of tax break? Who gets it?
And doesn’t Obama realize that 45 million Americans already pay absolutely no federal income tax? Hard to cut someone’s taxes when they’re not paying any. There are another 18 million taxpayers who pay less than $500 in federal taxes. The point being, somebody has to pay for what you are proposing in the rest of your speech. And after you’re through upping the tax burden on the richest two percent (who already pay 88% of all the taxes from individuals in America) and carry through with your Carteresque idea to reduce domestic oil production by taxing “windfall” profits from oil companies, the well goes pretty dry.
Then there are these “specifics” on energy policy:
And in that time, he has said no to higher fuel-efficiency standards for cars, no to investments in renewable energy, no to renewable fuels. And today, we import triple the amount of oil than we had on the day that Senator McCain took office.
Now is the time to end this addiction and to understand that drilling is a stop-gap measure, not a long-term solution, not even close.
As president, as president, I will tap our natural gas reserves, invest in clean coal technology, and find ways to safely harness nuclear power. I’ll help our auto companies re-tool, so that the fuel-efficient cars of the future are built right here in America.
I’ll make it easier for the American people to afford these new cars.
There are a couple of jaw droppers in there. First, if this is his energy “plan” I would start laying in a generous supply of firewood and go out and buy a good bicycle. The government doesn’t “invest” in clean coal technology. It can incentivize the changeover or mandate it by simply changing the clean air standards for coal fired power plants. And if Obama thinks his own party – his own liberal base – is going to allow him to start building nuclear power plants, he doesn’t read blogs very much nor does he listen to his own members of Congress.
But “helping our auto companies retool?” Is he planning on making the government a partner with Ford, GM, and the rest? Auto companies don’t need to retool, they need better leadership. Relying on profits from gas guzzling SUV’s and trucks is why automakers are in such dire straits today – despite signs all over the place that the price of gas was going to go up because of tight supplies. Executives at the auto companies took the easy road of short term profit and sacrificed the long term viability of their companies.
And Obama wants to reward this bad behavior by helping them “retool?” It would be nice if the designers actually had cars for which the retooling would be necessary. Maybe we should solve that little problem first and then think of big giveways to giant corporations and big labor.
And then there was Obama’s “chicken in every pot” line, promising to ” make it easier for the American people to afford these new cars.” Can he get any less specific than that? I leave it to your imagination for how this particular giveaway might work.
Finally, there was this:
And I’ll invest $150 billion over the next decade in affordable, renewable sources of energy—wind power, and solar power, and the next generation of biofuels—an investment that will lead to new industries and 5 million new jobs that pay well and can’t be outsourced.
It might seem like a lot of money – $150 over the next decade – but it is less than a drop in the bucket compared to what we spend every year on energy. And Obama wants to spread that paltry sum out over 10 years.
No we will not drill our way out of this crisis. But wind and solar power are not the answer to our long term energy needs either. Those technologies too, will be stop gap measures and never supply more than a couple of percent of our energy needs. The answer is the most abundant element in the universe – hydrogen. And Obama never mentioned it in his speech.
So Obama’s specificity on how he will bring about “change” was slightly better than in the past but not much. Education, health care, paid sick leave, and the rest of liberal policy proposals all sounded wonderful. But as far as how he was specifically going to implement them or even what some of them meant, we are still in the dark.
He even borrowed from Republicans:
Now, many of these plans will cost money, which is why I’ve laid out how I’ll pay for every dime: by closing corporate loopholes and tax havens that don’t help America grow.
But I will also go through the federal budget line by line, eliminating programs that no longer work and making the ones we do need work better and cost less, because we cannot meet 21st-century challenges with a 20th-century bureaucracy.
I believe Gerald Ford was the first candidate to make this promise at a convention. The Democrats had Bill Clinton and Al Gore making similar promises. It is a ridiculous political premise that the president (actually whoever he chooses to head up OMB) will go through the budget “line by line” and find savings. The old Grace Commission did something similar and had less than 10% of their recommendations passed by Congress.
The fact is, many of those “obsolete” programs benefit someone somewhere. Trying to cut programs much less eliminate them causes such screams of anguish that no president has come close to realizing significant savings in the federal budget. With only around 15% of the budget “discretionary” spending with the rest tied up in defense and entitlements, there is only one place Obama can go to pay for his “change;” the Department of Defense.
He has already said he will cut tens of billions by slowing down programs and eliminating others including missile defense. This doesn’t “save” much at all because what you do by cutting a defense contract in the “out” years is simply extend the contract while the contractor keeps adding “cost +” accounting.
But Obama didn’t say he was going to cut the military budget in Denver:
I will end this war in Iraq responsibly and finish the fight against Al Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan. I will rebuild our military to meet future conflicts, but I will also renew the tough, direct diplomacy that can prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and curb Russian aggression.
I will build new partnerships to defeat the threats of the 21st century: terrorism and nuclear proliferation, poverty and genocide, climate change and disease.
First, the next person that tells me Obama was being “specific” last night is going to make me scream. This is about as non-specific as you can get and still be on the stage. Just how does he create a world without nuclear weapons? It is nothing more than liberal pablum and for people like Andy Sullivan to gush about Obama “specifics” last night is simply ignoring reality.
But Obama’s talk of “rebuilding our military” flies in the face of what he said last year:
Second, I will cut tens of billions of dollars in wasteful spending. I will cut investments in unproven missile defense systems. I will not weaponize space. I will slow our development of future combat systems…and I will institute an independent Defense Priorities Board to ensure that the Quadrennial Defense Review is not used to justify unnecessary spending.
Third, I will set a goal of a world without nuclear weapons. To seek that goal I will not develop new nuclear weapons…I will seek a global ban on the development of fissile material…and I will negotiate with Russia to take our ICBMs off of hair-trigger alert…and to achieve deep cuts in our nuclear arsenals.”
Which is it, Barack? “Rebuild” the military or tear it down?
Obama’s speech last night still fell way short of specifics – despite what shamelessly gushing reporters had to say. I nearly had a stroke when Carl Bernstein, appearing on CNN as an “analyst” said that this was “the greatest convention in modern times” – as if the first two nights weren’t incredible yawners not to mention near disasters for Obama. And apparently, the press showed their true colors during the speech:
Several members of the media were seen cheering and clapping for Barack Obama as the Illinois senator accepted the Democratic nomination Thursday.
Standing on the periphery of the football field serving as the Democratic convention floor, dozens of men and women wearing green media floor passes chanted along with the crowd.
Two members of the foreign press exchanged opportunities to take each other’s picture while wearing an Obama hat and waving a flag.
Several others nearby screamed “woo” during some of Obama’s biggest applause lines.
No doubt they just couldn’t help themselves.
Overall, not bad at all for Obama. Lacking many specifics (although more specific than he has been in the past) with his usual excellent delivery made the night a triumph for him.
I would grade him out at a B minus. It should give him a bounce in the polls even when McCain names his choice of running mate. The question will be, how long that bounce will last and what will things look like after the dust settles from the Republican convention which, as we speak, may be postponed due to Tropical Storm Gustav.
My guess is that by mid September, we will be back to the 4-6 point Obama lead from July. And the number of days that McCain will be able to carve into that lead will start to dwindle.