What do balloons, the Book of Revelation, The Usual Suspects, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Barack Obama’s Convention Speech have in common?
Their endings are stronger than their beginnings.
If Obama could've opened his speech with his strong end, if he could've built a rapport with viewers and sense of togetherness, then his sneers at his opponents wouldn’t have felt so needlessly small.
But he got the entire speech off on the wrong foot by not spending enough time building goodwill and a sense of shared goals. You don’t start things off with attacks on opponents, but after a very brief beginning, that’s what he did.
“Now our friends down in Tampa, at the Republican convention, were more than happy to talk about everything they think….”
That’s not necessarily a verbal sword, but it’s a tonal one, and tone is enormously important when you’re trying to appeal to independents. Most surprisingly, those words came only a few, tiny paragraphs after he started talking and immediately steered things in the direction of a partisan stump speech.
The immediate rebuttal is that Obama wasn’t trying to get his Hallmark on, that he knew people wouldn’t buy 2008 Obama in 2012. True. But Obama could split the difference – he’s certainly gifted enough to avoid either being Big Barack or Snippy Barack.
In a sense, it seemed like he was overcompensating for the disappointments of his first term. All week, critics warned him about smiling wide while there’s still such wide-spread unemployment, about dancing in the aisles when the economy is a big wallflower.
But that didn’t mean that the only other option was to, essentially, start a speech with “Now our friends down in Tampa, at the Republican convention…”
So it was odd; almost like he’d just watched some Romney poke and wanted to poke back.
Now… having said all that, here’s where he was very good – he was, as James Carville described, “muscular.”
This wasn’t a passive Jimmy Carter-dove, this wasn’t a guy who’s feeling swamped and isolated. This was a guy who clearly wants to fight, whose competitive instincts have kicked in.
He was decisively and defiantly liberal, particularly during a speech that’s historically aimed at independents, and he firmly-embraced populism in riff-after-riff of "no tax breaks for millionaires" rhetoric.
But I don’t actually think this speech, this time was for independents, I think it was for his base. Democrats are currently at the wrong end of the enthusiasm gap, and if there’s one thing the base of any party likes, it’s a fight.
Obama can’t win without big Democratic turnout, but he will win with big Democratic turnout.
That’s the destiny of demographics, and it’s still the most important factor in this and any election.
This speech was all about trying to secure that big Democratic turnout, and in that way, I think it was a success.
Not for independents, not for moderates, but for the base he needs, it was just what they needed.
Grade = B