After a masterful speech by former President Bill Clinton, it was time for this president to make his own case.
It wasn’t going to be an inspiring, passionate affair: Barack Obama is neither in that frame of mind or at that point in his campaign. Republicans have portrayed him as everything from a naive, overambitious academic to an active collectivist. Obama can’t just be the man of promises anymore. He needs to be the sober, reasonable one in the room. He needs to be the guy that you can trust and not just the one who inspires you.
So, anyone disappointed by the relative flatness of Obama’s speech last night is missing the point. Let Michelle, Bill, Elizabeth and Julian make the flashy cases. He is the President of the United States, and he tells it like it is. (Video after the jump.) Unfortunately, that might be the worst thing right now.
The August jobs report just dropped, like some Satanic stork – and the economy grew only 96,000 jobs, which is a good 30,000 fewer than anyone expected. There’s less unemployment, but only because the labor force is smaller than it has been in the last thirty years.
That’s a huge problem, and Obama knew it. He didn’t sugar-coat the reality last night—the theme of the speech was “Yeah, we have big problems, but let’s actually get them done instead of pandering for votes.” The problem is that in a population that is terrified for its livelihoods and futures, now is not the time to persuade it to buckle down for the collective good. The American people are in fight-or-flight mode, and that’s just not a good sign for Obama.
Also it didn’t help that last night did not have a a memorable speech. Although he garnered 50,000 tweets a minute, Obama was at his most detached and calculated—he gets like that sometimes, and that’s not a terrible thing. If you switched to the VMAs, or left for FNO, nobody would blame you.
The hour before, Joe Biden went on a rambling, emotional plea to the American people – he employed the sort of ad-libs and tears that Clinton used the previous night, though the Vice President is nowhere near as masterful a speaker. There didn’t seem to be much structure to his speech, but it covered the range of emotions and galvanized the crowd. But Biden has shambling, winsome charisma, and it got the job done in the room.
The truth is that President Obama isn’t fighting the Republican ideology, or its campaign strategy – he’s fighting the American people. Nobody is happy right now, and the hardest thing you can say is, “We’re not done yet.” He firmly believes he can fix this, but the current results are not inspiring. Yet he based his speech on that last night.
A few months ago, there were gripes that the Republicans and Democrats essentially had the same party platform. Nobody is saying that now. So maybe the conventions did their job.