Friday, August 29, 2008

Reality check

On Obama's acceptance speech last night:

Robert Gordon and James Kvaal in The New Republic:

Barack Obama's speech tonight answers critics who argued that he needed to lay out a clear agenda for voters. "Let me spell out exactly what that change would mean if I am president," he said. And then he did. In its depth and detail, his speech resembled a State of the Union address more than a typical stump speech.

The speech once again demonstrated why Obama is so hard to pigeonhole ideologically. He forcefully pressed classic Clintonian themes of government reform and personal responsibility, far more effectively than John Kerry ever did. And he also dipped down to "second-tier issues" like family leave and bankruptcy (especially nice to hear after Joe Biden -- who supported bankruptcy reform -- joined the ticket), issues where "small" fixes can make a big difference.

But at the same time, Obama also made clear that "now is not the time for small plans." He offered a sophisticated defense of government, arguing that "what it should do is that which we cannot do for ourselves." And he went on to outline an agenda for health care and energy more ambitious and activist than Democrats have heard from their nominee in years.


Andrew Sullivan:

It was a deeply substantive speech, full of policy detail, full of people other than the candidate, centered overwhelmingly on domestic economic anxiety. It was a liberal speech, more unabashedly, unashamedly liberal than any Democratic acceptance speech since the great era of American liberalism. But it made the case for that liberalism - in the context of the decline of the American dream, and the rise of cynicism and the collapse of cultural unity. His ability to portray that liberalism as a patriotic, unifying, ennobling tradition makes him the most lethal and remarkable Democratic figure since John F Kennedy.

What he didn't do was give an airy, abstract, dreamy confection of rhetoric. The McCain campaign set Obama up as a celebrity airhead, a Paris Hilton of wealth and elitism. And he let them portray him that way, and let them over-reach, and let them punch him again and again ... and then he turned around and destroyed them. If the Rove Republicans thought they were playing with a patsy, they just got a reality check.


Sullivan is an Obamacon, along with Francis Fukuyama of end-of-history fame, Douglas Kmiec, a Republican constitutional scholar who was recently denied communion for supporting Obama, and a long and growing roster of American conservatives.

From a European perspective, I thought that the fireworks were a bit over the top. The German TV network ARD had a hilarious segment comparing excruciatingly boring German political conventions with the Democrats' Hollywood extravaganza in Denver.

Listening to NPR this morning, I heard Al Gore say at the convention:

"Today we face essentially the same choice we faced in 2000, though it may be even more obvious now, because John McCain, a man who has earned our respect on many levels, is now openly endorsing the policies of the Bush-Cheney White House and promising to actually continue them.The same policies? Those policies? All over again? Hey, I believe in recycling, but that's ridiculous."