I’ll have a fuller, more considered take on Barack Obama’s convention speech in tomorrow’s Scotsman but my initial impression was that this is not one of those Obama speeches people will remember. Doubtless it will be included in some edition of his selected speeches but that will be because of the occasion at which is was delivered, not because it was a magnificent example of his oratorical prowess.
Perhaps the President is a victim of his own success. Expectations for an Obama speech are higher than for other politicians. Nevertheless, when one thinks of all the talking in Charlotte this week you can make a decent case that Obama was outshone by his wife, eclipsed by Bill Clinton and even, in terms of making a case for his re-election, second fiddle to Joe Biden on the night.
Biden in fact gave a speech that, though too long, was pitched directly too Obama’s weakest demographic: blue-collar, white men. This is a strong guy with a spine of steel, Biden said. He’s got your back and you can put your faith in him knowing he’ll deliver.
As for Obama: well, it was mostly pretty familiar. Though he finished strongly there was less rhetoric than might have been expected and, frankly, the speech never quite managed to soar. On Twitter it was not hard to find people comparing it to a State of the Union address and that seemed a fair judgement. This is not a compliment.
So there was a long list of accomplishment and a long list of promises and ample reason given for doubting that Mitt Romney can offer a plausible or even decent alternative. Countering GOP “individualism” Obama offered a defence of citizenship defined by mutual obligation and the ties that bind. There were moments when his speech reminded me of Tony Blair’s enthusiasm for communitarianism.
Times have been tough, Obama said, and the journey has been harder than anyone imagined. But the worst is in the past now and better, brighter times lie ahead. Together we can get there; together we will build this future.
On foreign policy he mocked Mitt Romney’s inexperience. Even dear old Blighty got a mention as “our closest ally” thanks to Romney’s pre-Olympic misteps. So that was nice. Not that this will be a foreign policy election, of course. Which is just as well for Romney, frankly.
A new jobs report is released later today and everyone seems to assume it will contain encouraging news for the President. Perhaps that’s why, despite justified criticism of the lack of detail offered by the GOP in Tampa last week, Obama didn’t offer much of the stuff himself either. Unemployment remains above 8% but good numbers this month will bolster his case that the worst is over, corners have been turned and soon it will be, if you will excuse the reference, Morning in America again. But if the numbers are bad? Well, then this will probably be seen, in hindsight, as a sluggish, defensive speech.
If you were marking the speech out of ten you might struggle to give it more than a six. But perhaps that just means it was as good as it had to be and no more.
In any case, Democrats leave Charlotte with a spring in their step. Their convention has been notably more coherent – and enthused – than the Republicans’ effort in Tampa. It helps that Democrats actually like and believe in their candidate.
Nevertheless, this was a speech with more perspiration and exhortation than one associates with Obama. It was not bad at all but nor was it inspirational. It is unlikely this will matter very much.
More later, I guess, but that’s my first impression.
More Spectator for less. Stay informed leading up to the EU referendum and in the aftermath. Subscribe and receive 15 issues delivered for just £15, with full web and app access. Join us.