Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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August 29, 2008

THE BEST DEFENSE IS A STRONG OFFENSE.... Realistically, it's not at all fair to keep expecting Barack Obama to deliver stirring, powerful, historic addresses. Faced with key moments repeatedly over the last few years, the political world seems to consistently wait for Obama with a four-word phrase in mind: "This better be good."

And yet, he keeps managing to exceed expectations.

It was, by most measures, a different kind of speech for Obama, a fact that did not go by unnoticed. Joe Klein noted, "Barack Obama's acceptance speech tonight wasn't what people have come to expect from a Barack Obama speech. It wasn't filled with lofty rhetoric or grand cadences. It did not induce tears or euphoria." John Dickerson added, "For a speech before 80,000 people and Doric columns in a football stadium, Barack Obama might have been expected to summon winged chariots, F-14s, and maybe a marching band. When he finished, hats would be cast into the air, and rent shirts would litter the floor. Obama didn't deliver that speech."

But those aren't criticisms. Indeed, Obama deliberately avoided that kind of speech, for a more forceful articulation of why he's ready to lead, why John McCain isn't, and precisely what he wants to do for the nation. It's easy to call for change, so Obama described the kind of change he envisions. It's easy to condemn an opponent, so Obama explained why McCain's ideas are intellectually and practically bankrupt.

The result was one for the books. People are going to be talking about last night for quite a while.

Most of Obama's more memorable speeches are powerful. Last night, he mixed power with persuasion. Listening to the substance and taking in his vision, it was clear this wasn't about Obama giving his audience goosebumps, but rather, giving his audience a direction, and a reason to follow him. To that end, over the course of 45 minutes, Obama set the campaign on a new course.

It's tricky to go on the offensive while maintaining an optimistic and inspirational tone, but that's precisely what made Obama's speech so effective. He didn't just take the fight to McCain, he eviscerated McCain, his worldview, his party, and his record. Obama took McCain's claims and debunked them. He took McCain's talking points, and mocked them. Remember the questions about Obama's toughness? His willingness to mix it up? Neither do I.

The speech was also strikingly self-aware. Obama knew exactly what detractors have been saying, and the areas of doubt for voters -- Does he have a clear agenda? Is he more talk than substance? Celebrity? Taxes? -- and methodically, almost surgically, made his case.

There weren't a lot of laugh lines or rhetorical tricks last night. Obama was, for lack of a better word, serious. In fact, he called McCain out for doing the one thing presidential candidates shouldn't do: run an unserious campaign. "The times are too serious, the stakes are too high for this same partisan playbook," Obama said. "So let us agree that patriotism has no party. I love this country, and so do you, and so does John McCain. The men and women who serve in our battlefields may be Democrats and Republicans and Independents, but they have fought together and bled together and some died together under the same proud flag. They have not served a Red America or a Blue America -- they have served the United States of America. So I've got news for you, John McCain. We all put our country first."

As Josh Marshall concluded, "[F]or this moment, John McCain looks very, very small. Both in stature and as a person."

Game on.

Steve Benen 6:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (42)

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"So I've got news for you, John McCain. We all put our country first."

Game on, indeed, Steve. It was as if Aaron Sorkin was Obama's speechwriter last night. One wonders if Michelle cut his tie off just before he walked out.

"Let Obama be Obama."

Posted by: JC on August 29, 2008 at 7:10 AM | PERMALINK

Everyone that could be persuaded will be persuaded by that speech. I don't think anyone could have risen to the occasion better, and I'm one of the folks that was very apprehensive of the stadium format.

Posted by: loki on August 29, 2008 at 7:17 AM | PERMALINK

I thought the same thing JC. I'm pretty sure Axelrod and Plouffe were backstage thinking the same thing I was: GAME ON!

Posted by: Jonathan on August 29, 2008 at 7:27 AM | PERMALINK

Last night after Obama's speech, I said exactly what Josh Marshall said-- Republicans look small in comparison. They have nothing to offer the American people other than petty, stupid, unfair, small-minded politics.

They had their way for 8 solid years, gave us the government they've always said they wanted to give us, and it was an unmitigated disaster. It's not only about Bush, it's about Republicanism, the brand, the ideology, the policies. They don't work, and people are wising up to that fact.

Posted by: Taritac on August 29, 2008 at 7:30 AM | PERMALINK

Don't be fooled by the numbers. Many (All?) Repubs watching the speech were offended by the crowd shots ("Look at all those minorities!" - I am being kind, they probably used the N word). Repubs are lazy at going to events, but they show up on election day. Only way to win for Obama is to GET OUT THE VOTE!

Posted by: lk on August 29, 2008 at 7:32 AM | PERMALINK


With all the tax cuts, military build up, and the need for good fathers I thought I was listening to the Republican convention.

Why are any of those things the purview of the Republican party? Are you saying that fathers shouldn't be good -- indeed, that it's the official Democratic position that fathers shouldn't be good? He didn't say that was all that we need; he didn't offer a shallow indictment as family policy. But surely it is part of the solution, as are government programs where appropriate and economic policies that aid.

And after 8 years of a Rumsfield "transformation" and five years of an unnnecessary war of choice in a land unrelated to the real threats to America, our military does need to be rebuilt. Contrary to popular "wisdom", Democrats are not weaklings -- no matter how much a pacifist wing wants to claim sole ownership of the party mantle. Democrats are the party of FDR (who built the Arsenal of Democracy), Truman (who rebuilt to counter Communist aggression), and even Carter (who ordered rearmament long before Reagan stole the issue).

For the first time in a long time, I was hearing the true Democratic party speaking: Hopeful and realistic, tolerant and communal.

Posted by: Bernard HP Gilroy on August 29, 2008 at 7:43 AM | PERMALINK

"Whoever didn't get picked for Republican VP today may be a lucky Republican."

- Alex Castellanos GOP political consultant after Obama's speech 8/28/08

Posted by: mr. irony on August 29, 2008 at 7:50 AM | PERMALINK

Temperment - the one word I was glad to hear Obama mention with regards to McCain. Excellent speech!
Obama/Biden 08

Posted by: Dorothy on August 29, 2008 at 7:54 AM | PERMALINK
“Tonight, Americans witnessed a misleading speech that was so fundamentally at odds with the meager record of Barack Obama,” spokesman Tucker Bounds said. “When the temple comes down, the fireworks end, and the words are over, the facts remain: Senator Obama still has no record of bipartisanship, still opposes offshore drilling, still voted to raise taxes on those making just $42,000 per year, and still voted against funds for American troops in harm’s way. The fact remains: Barack Obama is still not ready to be President.”

Yeah. That's their response. Small indeed.

Posted by: smiley on August 29, 2008 at 7:57 AM | PERMALINK

Bernard HP Gilroy: For the first time in a long time, I was hearing the true Democratic party speaking: Hopeful and realistic, tolerant and communal.

Perfectly put.

Posted by: Aris on August 29, 2008 at 8:00 AM | PERMALINK

still voted to raise taxes on those making just $42,000 per year

They're still pushing that lie? Wait -- of course they are.

As for "Orwell," Obama put jackasses like you on notice that americans won't let the Republican Party pretend they're the sole arbiters of decency and patriotism.

Obama very clearly understands his opponents, while the Republicans can't afford to offer clueless minions like "Orwell" anything like an accurate picture. With nothing else to offer the American people, the GOP has painted itself into a corner of straw men, blustering posture and fantasy economics. Sun Tzu's advice -- know your opponent and know yourself -- overwhelmingly favors the Democrats.

Posted by: Gregory on August 29, 2008 at 8:03 AM | PERMALINK

For the first time in a long time, I was hearing the true Democratic party speaking: Hopeful and realistic, tolerant and communal.

And not afraid of the Republicans.


Posted by: Gregory on August 29, 2008 at 8:07 AM | PERMALINK

I thought is was a great speech. I think people underestimate how difficult it is to give a speech to that many people and still make it sound personal. As for the Right - we can expect nothing but attacks. Now they are saying that he wasn't lofty enough and that he mentioned McCain too much, but if he had been lofty they would have said he wasn't down-to-earth enough - no way to win that.

I did think the 10 years to no dependence on Middle-eastern oil was a bit much - not sure how he'd do that - but it's a political speech, and he was challenging us as Americans.

With regard to the quote above: "still voted to raise taxes on those making just $42,000 per year, and still voted against funds for American troops in harm’s way"

What are they referencing here? This isn't a snark - I hear the Right constantly saying stuff like this and I have no idea what they are talking about. As another example, the Right repeatedly says that he'll raise taxes on anyone making $72k a year (or some number like that) - when I know that is bullsh*t - I'm just wondering if they ever justify this crap with actual information.

Posted by: inthewoods on August 29, 2008 at 8:08 AM | PERMALINK

I hoped I might wake this morning with the moment and the speech downsized by sleep into manageable bits and bytes.

The opposite happened.

Last night I wrote: US politics will never be the same. I stand firmly by that. This isn't just GAME ON. It is GAME MOVED ON. We are in uncharted territory.

But let no one gainsay this: Barack has seized the helm. Like no one before him...

Posted by: ROTFLMLiberalAO on August 29, 2008 at 8:17 AM | PERMALINK

Last night after watching Obama's speach (I liked it) I switched to the Daily Show and saw the best convention backgrounder video of a candidate ever!

This had me rolling on the floor. I hope they do a McCain one too.

Posted by: Steve on August 29, 2008 at 8:19 AM | PERMALINK

Even the despicable Scarboro says of Obama: "A political athlete second to none."

"We all put America first, John McCain."

Posted by: Econobuzz on August 29, 2008 at 8:22 AM | PERMALINK

It's just become harder work to run for Prisoner of war of the United States of America. Buckle up McAce. You have been unclothed, de-nutted, and made to look smallis in the area where your nuts once were. I agree with that GOP pundant. Whomever wqas not picked to be McAce's VP is one lucky sot.

Posted by: Stevio on August 29, 2008 at 8:24 AM | PERMALINK

I didn't need to be sold by Obama. I was sold long ago. However, i would have liked him to tell people specifically why "small government" doesn't work - the New Orleans levees, the Minneapolis bridge, Enron, housing and subprime crises, e-coli and salmanella. He briefly mentioned lead toys, but I think he needs to make the case that government is important. I also would have liked him to talk about the divisiveness of special interests - Georgia would have been a timely example. Three years ago, McCain was sharing a birthday cake with Bush while Katrina was hitting NO, but the next birthday he spent on a trip to Georgia and lounging on a yacht with a Russian exile. It was all about oil then, and it still is.

Posted by: Danp on August 29, 2008 at 8:27 AM | PERMALINK

Chuck Todd just confirmed that Mitt Romney will NOT be the VP pick for McLame. Its not Pawlenty either. Please God let him pick Sen. Droopy Dog Lieberman!!!!!

Posted by: Jonathan on August 29, 2008 at 8:27 AM | PERMALINK

How does John McCain follow that? In this case, going first was an asset. The bar has been raised far too high. No doubt the Republican convention will be non-stop POW. McCain will be surrounded by uniforms, but considering "mission Accomplished", flight suits, and 8 years of George Bush using troops as a backdrop the effect will be dimmed and contrived.

We now know McCain's healcare plan is summed up in two words: "emergency room." He's been left behind on Iraq. He clearly has no understanding of the ecomony.

"My friends, I will not surrender in Iraq" will sound more like excorsizing personal demons than highlighting commander in chief credentials.

Its almost prophetic that the Republicans will present a moldering and decrepit old man as their official face next week. It really will be a choice of moving forward or moving back.

My hunch is that we'll see the media turn on McCain. From a business point of view, Obama will be golden for them. McCain offers nothing. Its their perfect story arc. They were giddy over Obama before he was the front runner, they turned on him after Wisconsin when he virtually locked up the nomination. They aided and abetted John McCain's sleazy attacks. Now you can detect a subtle shift. I have a feeling they'll will not be kind after he makes his acceptance speech next week. Its really the same formula they've used in professional wrestling for decades.

Posted by: Saint Zak on August 29, 2008 at 8:28 AM | PERMALINK

A smaller, but still significant point about last night: The disciplined, nearly perfect execution, with Obama taking the stage 4 minutes early. Throughout the convention, every speaker took the podium by launching directly into the meat of their content, little intro, no impromptu shout-outs to home states or personal heroes. Al Gore sounded rushed, committed to covering a lot of ground without exceeding his allotted time. The Obama and Biden families didn't linger in a long self-congratulatory haze.

The set which appeared to dwarf Obama during sound checks late Wednesday faded into the background amidst the people.

There was an air of ordinariness. Throw a party for 80,000 people? Aw, shucks, the DNC seemed to say, it's no big deal. Run it on schedule? Yeah, it's easier that way. Use the PA for crowd-control announcements, adjusting the rules or expectations? Naw, not needed.

Serious. Precise. Direct. Purposeful. No unexpected drama. No ceremony.

How was that accomplished?

Posted by: Bose on August 29, 2008 at 8:31 AM | PERMALINK

Orwell by name(assumed), but not by intellect!
Tax cuts for the middle class is much different than for the wealthy. Rich Americans for the most part have no noblesse Oblige because most are rich, but not noble. And let us not get metaphysical with talk of soul. Bottom line stupid people are not capable of choosing their own leaders.

Posted by: captain dan on August 29, 2008 at 8:35 AM | PERMALINK

A natural born leader and a speech for the ages.

Posted by: Siditious on August 29, 2008 at 8:36 AM | PERMALINK

We do not know that the VP will not be Tim Pawlenty, or as I call him, Gunga Tim, the water carrier for John McCain. He's having a great time dancing around the question. And remember, Biden said he wasn't VP before the announcement that he was.

I'm hoping for the best and preparing for the worst. Only when I hear the official announcement will I breathe easy.

Posted by: Mumrock on August 29, 2008 at 8:36 AM | PERMALINK

Peggy Noonan just proclaimed the Obama speech, and I quote, "a bit of a floparini."

Given how clueless and wrong she is, this is terrific news.

Posted by: TR on August 29, 2008 at 8:50 AM | PERMALINK

Senator Obama said it best:


What more needs to be said?

Posted by: Nashville_fan on August 29, 2008 at 8:59 AM | PERMALINK

The Republican Noise Machine's ability to convince people to trust their propaganda instead of what they see and hear with their own eyes and ears should not be underestimated. That said, I can't help but think that Republicans were momentarily dumbstruck at the power of that speech, the largeness of its message, and the forcefulness of a vision of a new politics for America that embraces Democrats and Republicans alike without being maudlin about it.

I would not be surprised if Republican speechwriters are spending the weekend furiously rewriting the script to modify the message of next week's convention. After what Obama and the entire Democratic Convention achieved this week, if the GOP returns to form, takes out the Karl Rove playbook, and turns their convention into a pale immitation of a Rush Limbaugh radio show, then the contrast between Obama's spacious vision for America and the Republicans narrow and crabbed view will simply be too stark. A red meat grinder convention that is mostly about the character of their opponent will diminish McCain and Republicans in the eyes of voters and probably doom them as a party. As it should.

Posted by: Ted Frier on August 29, 2008 at 9:01 AM | PERMALINK


Posted by: mhr on August 29, 2008 at 9:02 AM | PERMALINK

Evidently, eight is not enough for Peggy.

Posted by: Econobuzz on August 29, 2008 at 9:03 AM | PERMALINK

TR: You beat me to the punch. La Femme Noonan does not approve and is not moved. Afterall, she had her last orgasm at Reagan's funeral. Gawd I cannot stand that woman. She writes and opines unfettered by her "soaring" pronouncements past. Would someone please remove the turd from the end of her nose and bury her next to her hero? If they ever put Reagan on Rushmore, I hope they leave room behind him for the sculpture of Noonan with her nose up his ass.

Posted by: TuiMel on August 29, 2008 at 9:04 AM | PERMALINK


Posted by: mhr on August 29, 2008 at 9:08 AM | PERMALINK

Peggy: The speech had some heft but no height. Peggy wants it all. She is very demanding.

Posted by: Econobuzz on August 29, 2008 at 9:08 AM | PERMALINK

"Peggy Noonan just proclaimed the Obama speech, and I quote, "a bit of a floparini.""

Peggny Noonan is a delusional crack-pot. If there is ever a Broadway revival of Suddenly, Last Summer she'd be an inspired casting choice.

The right wing reaction to last night's speech sounds an awefull lot like whistling past the graveyard.

Posted by: Saint Zak on August 29, 2008 at 9:09 AM | PERMALINK

Peggy is getting gang banged on MSNBC, and she's losing it.

Posted by: Econobuzz on August 29, 2008 at 9:12 AM | PERMALINK

Peggy is getting gang banged on MSNBC, and she's losing it.

Wow, is that a poor choice of words. Goodbye, breakfast.

Posted by: TR on August 29, 2008 at 9:21 AM | PERMALINK

Everyone underestimates Obama. Even his ardent supporters. So much handwringing: Is he hitting back hard enough? Is he going to top his last speech? Can he appear humble but also presidential?

Obama bided his time all throughout the month. McCain attacked. Obama waited. McCain's rhetoric mounted. Obama waited. McCain's campaign started getting giddy with the tone of the attacks. Obama waited. The media gnashed its teeth. The doubters wailed and fretted. Obama waited. The exquisitly choreographed convention began. Would Hillary and Bill play ball? The pundits and the doubters writhed in agony. Obama waited. McCain's campaign attacked and attacked.

And Obama pounced.


I'm done worrying. We have this in the bag baby.

Posted by: Bey on August 29, 2008 at 9:36 AM | PERMALINK

What amazed me about last night -- and The Mrs actually brought it up -- is how Obama sounded like ... well, a blogger.


Look at how he set up the issue, then smacked it down. Look at how he laid out McCain's actual record, and then showed its failures. Look at the way he took what McCain and his advisers have said and threw it back into their faces. And look at the way he challenged McCain head on, daring him to debate on national security any time, any place.

I have never, ever, at any time, seen a Democratic candidate show that type of toughness. It's what we've all been screaming for these past few weeks, and what we were worried would never happen.

But it finally did. For the love of god, a Democrat finally stood up and swung back.

It's a regular frickin' miracle.

And he did without going negative, resorting to lies, or attacking McCain as a person. Instead, he ripped his policies and worldview.

It may not have been as moving as past speeches, but it was perfect.

Posted by: Mark D on August 29, 2008 at 10:11 AM | PERMALINK

LMAO @ Saint Zak

"Suddenly, Last Summer"

The lobotomizer or lobotomized?

Posted by: MsMuddled on August 29, 2008 at 10:21 AM | PERMALINK

It was a kickass speech that left John McCain looking like a spoiled, rich, fossilized wanker. Period.

All these cock-sucking Republican bloviaters can kiss my ass. Obama is so much more qualified than John "I was a captive" McCain, it ain't even fuckin' funny!!!

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on August 29, 2008 at 10:47 AM | PERMALINK

It was really amusing right after the speech ended to switch back and forth between MSNBC and Faux News. Olbermann, Matthews and Maddow were all visibly moved by both the speech and the historical importance of the nomination. The hacks on Faux (Rove, Hume, and the sneering blond du jour) were falling all over themselves to say how boring and unsuccessful it was.
. . . jim strain in san diego.

Posted by: Jim Strain on August 29, 2008 at 1:20 PM | PERMALINK

Sorry, I don't buy it. McCain, like Bush/Cheney and Rove, is much too willing to take our country to war as a first response, urging our citizens to fight and die needlessly before trying to find ways to prevent conflict. He uses "love of country" as an excuse to threaten other countries of the world not for the good of the nation but for the good of the wealthy minority of our country. He, like his cohorts, love only a red America...that is why they politicized the DoJ, why they go out of their way to disenfranchise voters, and why they flip votes and steal elections and immediately block all investigations into the vote counting process.

McCain would start a war rather than lose an election as evidenced by his interference in the Georgian/Russian conflict without considering he had not been VOTED into that position yet, not represented the majority of Americans. It's a statement that McCain thinks he "knows" what is best for our nation regardless of how the people might think about it.

That is not love our our country...it is love of McCain's country, which does not include dissenters.

btw...if McCain called his wife a f**king c*nt in public imagine what he might call his VP who also happens to be a F**king C*nt in the back of McCain's mind

Posted by: joey(bjobotts) on August 29, 2008 at 5:50 PM | PERMALINK

That was the greatest political speech I think I have ever watched - for all the reasons Steved noted. But I was struck by something else: It was utterly and completely 'pander-free'. He laid out who he is and where he wants to go in a way that was as no-nonsense as it was dazzling.

Posted by: JoeW on August 29, 2008 at 7:18 PM | PERMALINK



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