Political Animal


June 15, 2012 10:11 AM Speech and Message

By Ed Kilgore

Perhaps it was because it was a long speech delivered in the middle of a mid-week afternoon, with no prepared remarks distributed in advance (and no transcription available for quite some time). Maybe the White House overhyped it as a big turning point. Almost certainly the MSM, having manufactured a crisis in the Obama campaign over the last week, expected some dramatic departure or new catch-phrase. The speech did get a bit draggy in the sections on education and energy policy. And obviously anyone who doesn’t like Obama could easily find something to diss (several of my progressive acquaintances just completely lose it every time Obama refers to deficit reduction, ever).

But I’m still a little surprised by the generally negative reaction to Obama’s remarks in Cleveland yesterday, which provided his clearest-ever effort to frame the election as a choice not a referendum, with the path ahead offered by Mitt Romney not representing his “ideas” or his “experience” or his “skills” but a very old philosophy that in current circumstances woud have a savage effect on the people of the United States.

Whether or not the speech is rated a success, the message it contained is the right one. Mitt Romney will go to extraordinary lengths to talk about anything other than the actual agenda he has embraced at the demand of a conservative movement that would have otherwise found a way to deny him the nomination. He’s not going to point out for us that 90% of his economic talking points are identical to those of George W. Bush, or that the 10% variation involves issues on which he is distinctly to the right of W. He’s not going to wrap himself in the Ryan Budget—the enormous, disastrous package of legislation that would be enacted within a few months if Romney becomes president and Republicans control Congress—and won’t be honest about its content or implications when it does come up. And in general he won’t repeat much of anything he was talking about incessantly during the primaries, other than his alleged hatred of ObamaCare.

So the president is going to have to present both sides of the debate the election is actually about, even as Romney tries to pretend he’s just this mild-mannered patriotic technocrat who’s willing to “fix” the economy and then go back to his virtuous life. The Cleveland speech was a good start. But it will have to be repeated many times over until its essential points can be rattled off succinctly by surrogates and even, at some point, understood by the MSM.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • c u n d gulag on June 15, 2012 10:24 AM:

    Doesn't that mean that the rest of the Democrats will have to stay on message WITH President Obama?

    Yeah - uhm... good luck with that!

    Right now, I can start to see the same sort of "Everyone to the lifeboats - FECK the women and children! SAVE YOURSELVES!!!" panic they had in 2010 that followed the passage of ACA.

    And the MSM will be more than happy to help in making the Democrats look divided and scared, while they make the Republicans look brave as they rally 'round their strong leader.

    I smell a catastrophe in the making - same as I did two years ago.

  • Tired Liberal on June 15, 2012 10:34 AM:

    What struck me about the press coverage of President Obama's speech was that they did not cover the substance of what he said. They obsessed on the notion that he was too wonkish and did not include any catchy "sound bites" they could use. Pathetic. On the other hand, they were effusive in praising Romney for giving a short speech with lots of catchy zingers that say nothing about what he would actually do if elected.

  • DAY on June 15, 2012 10:34 AM:

    When in danger or in doubt,
    run in circles, scream and shout.

    Relax politics fans, it is June.
    NFL fans also know it is June.
    And there are diehards in both camps that watched all 7000 hours of the draft/primary debates, and can't wait for mini camp/the conventions, and watch the NFL channel/CNN/Fox/MSNBC.

    They numbers are too small to measure.
    The real show begins after Labor Day- On September 9, when Philadelphia plays Cleveland. Go Eagles! Go Obama!

    Until then, as the bard says, it is, "much ado about nothing."

  • stormskies on June 15, 2012 10:44 AM:

    As Scott McClellan, Bush's former press secretary, the corporate media was/is 'actively complicit' in promoting the corporate/repiglican agenda.

    They are the gatekeepers for a large amount of our fellow citizens who are essentially stupid anyway. Out of 314 million people a total of about 20 million even bother to watch the evening news=propaganda shows.

    And those who do watch are subjected to the 'active complicity'. And that active complicity is performed by the corporate made mufti-millionaires like the corporate cum slut called Brain Williams. He sits there in his million dollars suites and ties and reads for 20 minutes what has been prepared by General Electric for him to read.

    And get's paid about 15 million per year for this. 20 minutes a day equals 15 million per year.

    That's a bunch of money for simply being 'actively complicit'. And in that complicity those in our country who even bother to tune into the evening 'news' are then subjected the corporate created 'narratives' and 'story line's' whose intention is to defeat Obama, and the remnants of our former democracy.

    This is why a very large amount of our corporate media is actually a criminal enterprise. Criminal in the sense of morality and ethics if not by actual laws.

    Meanwhile corporate cum sluts like Williams have their corporate assholes wiped by their servants who pay more in taxes than the cum slut himself.

  • SYSPROG on June 15, 2012 10:53 AM:

    What struck ME is that the run up to the speech was ALL about the 'dueling speeches in OHIO!' and then not one of the criticisms covered ROMNEY'S NON-speech. All Romney said was 'the President will say...and I worked in the private sector' and not one word of what HE would do. I thought the President was fine. Not 'wonkish'. I thought he EXPLAINED what he thought. I felt like the 'journalists' afterwards had their columns written before the speech based on how Obama speaks. The WAPO this morning was especially despicable. Dana Millbank should be slapped.

  • Kathryn on June 15, 2012 10:59 AM:

    Listened to last of speech as I drove around yesterday, thought it was more direct and drew a clear distinction between Obama policy and Romney hidden and unspoken policy. Do MSM talkers all get talking points like the GOP mouthpieces because they all say the same things . This speech had good content, important content really because he spelled out Romney's policies which Romney refuses to do, when Chris Matthews questioned dopey Michael Steele about the differences between Bush policies and Romney policies, he flat out refused to answer and went off on a unrelated tangent. Matthews and Bob Shrum tried to hold his feet to the fire and when that didn't work basically laughed at him.

  • jjm on June 15, 2012 11:02 AM:

    All reactions I've heard from people and comments on blogs were very positive. Jonathan Alter was clearly paid to set a tone of dismissal with his immediate, negative comments. He even claimed Obama 'lost his audience' by the end, which was clearly not true if you heard their responses and applause to the very close of the speech.

    The 1% doesn't want anyone to hear what Obama is saying about THEIR programme for the rest of us.

    So-called 'progressives' who don't support Obama are also working for the 1%, intentionally or inadvertently. They have NEVER understood Obama's style: the brilliance of handing the responsibility to the people, charging them with the task of deciding our future; his brilliant linking of Romney to his "allies in Congress."

    The NYT editorial page was not negative on the speech, nor other daily papers, so I'm wondering what you have been reading or seeing.

    Romney has so vapid a campaign that the only sound bite to come out of his speech was the "I'm rubber, you're glue" charge that Obama speaks well, but words are just words. Hillary tried that one on Obama and it didn't work then, won't work now.

  • DisgustedWithItAll on June 15, 2012 11:05 AM:

    What the President is going to have to do is tear the GOP and Mitt Romney a MASSIVE new asswhole. The speech was typical Hallmark Card fare from the squeamish Democrats. The ruinous nature of Republican ideas and policies need to be crystal clear to Americans. They need to use visuals to make this entirely clear. And they need to start by making use of charts like these (or updated ones):

    - http://www.offthechartsblog.org/what%E2%80%99s-driving-projected-debt/

    (The brilliant posting software won't allow more than one link. Very smart, WM.)

    But first, they need to inoculate themselves about the lies they know are coming:
    - Obama big spender
    - Obama big regulator and regulations are job destroying
    - Stimulus made it worse
    - ...

    These are not hard to do. But Democrats are simply stupid. And squeamish cowards.

  • Hedda Peraz on June 15, 2012 11:05 AM:

    SYSPROG has it right-
    Reporters cover train wrecks/fires/murders. Grist for their Mill.
    There was nothing to examine in Romney's remarks. ("Speech" is too dignified a term)
    It was mostly a series of unconnected bits- "I met a small businessman who told me".

    Did anyone channel hop yesterday? Mitt's was carried by MSNBC, followed by Obama's. But FOX and CNN did not carry the Obama speech. Did they air the Romney one?

  • Anonymous on June 15, 2012 11:07 AM:

  • Anonymous on June 15, 2012 11:11 AM:

  • kindness on June 15, 2012 11:14 AM:

    Remember the Puma people in 2008? The people that criticize President Obama now are the same. They want to make a name for themselves and they don't care if they sink the Democratic ship in doing so. Their egos have taken over.

    When you look at actual policy and substance, the speech was great. Why 'supporters' can't seem to evaluate it on that level tells me more about these 'supporters' true feelings than what they actually pout.

  • MBunge on June 15, 2012 11:17 AM:

    "no prepared remarks distributed in advance (and no transcription available for quite some time)."

    That's why the media panned the speech. If they don't get the speech in advance, they can't pretend to be smarter or better informed than anyone else. And no transcription after the fact makes it hard for them to focus on just one or two sentences and ignore the rest. So, the media was stripped of its advantage over the viewer and then asked to consider the speech as a whole instead of fixating on this or that minutia. No wonder they were pissed.


  • MadeInMichigan on June 15, 2012 11:19 AM:

    Here's hoping that Mr. Romney's feet will be held to the fire when he appears on Face the Nation on Sunday. If they are hard enough on him, he may not appear again on a non-Fox show before the election.

  • mmm on June 15, 2012 11:36 AM:

    A strange call came into the Brian Lehrer show today from an Hispanic that said she and her family were voting Republican because Obama wasn't doing enough (in response to the extended work permits ). Huh? Why are they so naive about the Republican agenda? Wow... the "unspoken policy" that Kathryn mentioned above is really working.

  • Keith Frohreich on June 15, 2012 11:37 AM:

    Note the "whining" comment by Gloria Borger on CNN yesterday. The MSM will begin using that term, despite the fact that the recent poll places the blame squarely on Bush.

  • DisgustedWithItAll on June 15, 2012 11:39 AM:

    @mmm: Stupidity is rampant in all ethnic groups. It is a human given.

  • c u n d gulag on June 15, 2012 11:39 AM:

    If Bob Schieffer's the host, Mitt's got no worries.
    Nothing but batting-practice fastballs for him to display his HR ability.

    It's a toss-up as to who pleasures Conservatives more, him, or Dancin' Dave Gregory.

  • DisgustedWithItAll on June 15, 2012 11:43 AM:

    One reason the press is so unimpressed is because he intimated that they weren't doing their jobs when he said he said he was looking forward to the media covering the differences.

    Such sensitive little mediocrities, aren't they? They deserve what Wall Street does: heads on a pole.

  • Neildsmith on June 15, 2012 11:50 AM:

    The few people who watched this speech live are not the intended audience. If the press doesn't like having to sit through long speeches, then stay home. At some point, a candidate has to say what he stands for and what he plans to do in the future. So sorry if that takes more than a 140 character tweet.

    Not sure who I hate more these days... journalists, politicians, or child predators.

  • c u n d gulag on June 15, 2012 12:01 PM:

    Child predators can't help themselves.

    The others are learned, earned, rewarded, and well-compensated, behaviors.

  • AlphaLiberal on June 15, 2012 12:18 PM:

    Reporters and pundits want mud pies, name-calling and catch phrases. They can't handle actual policy discussions.

  • Rick B on June 15, 2012 1:00 PM:

    Ed, you're right about the speech. "The message it contained is the right one."

    That attacks the very core of Romney's campaign and its total refusal to present any proposed policy at all for America. The negative reaction on the left is from people with hobby horse issues who are demanding that Obama champion their pet projects. They are upset that Obama merely wants to run a winning Presidential campaign and not cater to their narcissistic demands.

    Sometimes I wonder if American politics is reduced in the media to a fight between the venal and criminal right wing opposed by the self-centered narcissistic fools on the left. But then I ignore that formulation when I realize that it is both an unreal creation of the media and at the same time the core concept behind High Broderism.

    To Hell with the media crap. Obama had better win this election. The economic disaster exhibited in 2008 is nothing compared to what will happen if Romney gets elected and brings his immoral kleptocracy into office. This election really is a choice, not a referendum.

    Still, @Day has it right. This is June. The election will start with the conventions. Right now is just the phase of framing the issues for that election, a process in which the media gets few decent sound bites and has to create its own. Obama is also beginning to frame who Romney really is. Romney has few effective weapons to avoid such framing since he has presented no consistent message and no concrete program. He is running on right-wing angst. That's not a message the media is going to be happy to present to its wealthy masters, either ideologically or in the money-making sense of making news that the audience will pay to watch or read.

    Is it any wonder the MSM wants to focus on contrasting right-wing left-wing extremes in the current political dead season?

    @Gulag, you are of course correct about Bob Schieffer. Face it. If Romney decided not to go onto his show again during this election Sheiffer's show would be widely viewed by those inside the beltway as totally irrelevant from then on.

    CBS won't let that happen, so don't expect anything except Romney-approved softball questions. Don't forget that CBS was the first to place "news" into the entertainment division, and they fired Dan Rather because he persisted in reporting news.

  • Danram on June 15, 2012 2:39 PM:

    Trust me, Ed ... Obama's speeches aren't going to change the politcal calculus one bit. The public has tuned him out now. The 45% of the population that's going to support him no matter what is totally set, as is the 45% that's going to vote against him no matter what. The remaining 10% is who will decide this election, and for those people, results are now the only thing that matter after four years. As Mitt Romney recently said "Words are cheap."

    If the economy somehow turns around over the next five months, then Obama can probably pull it out. But if instead, as I think likely, the mess now unfolding in Europe bleeds over to the US and sends us back into another recession, Obama will be a one-term president. All the grandiose speeches in the world won't change that fact.

  • RonRonDoRon on June 15, 2012 4:07 PM:

    The speech was a good start? A good start on what? A good start on a first draft of a speech that would have actually said something substantive?

  • Blackstone on June 15, 2012 4:47 PM:

    Rick B on June 15, 2012 1:00 PM:

    Even Bill Clinton is on our side. But Obama will always have private equity.

  • Cha on June 15, 2012 5:10 PM:

    ronrondoron..your non substantive comment says everything about you and absolutely nothing about the President's brilliant speech.

  • tpaine on June 15, 2012 5:30 PM:


  • donzi_boy on June 15, 2012 6:24 PM:

    What do you call 30 lawyers at the bottom of a lake? Answer, " A good start". That's what this article reminds me of.

  • rulierose on June 15, 2012 7:36 PM:

    these comments are utterly hilarious! Jon Alter was "paid" to say bad things about the speech? (by MSNBC? yeah right.) the 1% "doesn't want you to hear Obama's message"? people who dare to criticize Obama are "letting their egos" take over?

    as a Republican, I'd like to say something to you all:

    please, please, PLEASE go on thinking that everything's fine. (you know--just like the private sector.) don't change a thing. since this speech was "a good start," encourage Obama to continue giving more speeches like this one.keep bringing up "the 1% and the 99%" because that plays SO well with independents and disaffected Democrats.

    and most importantly, whatever else you do, please keep accusing conservatives of racism. I just heard them tease a story on MSNBC about how "Obama would have won even bigger if it had not been for his race." that's the spirit! keep it up.

  • Doug on June 15, 2012 10:34 PM:

    The Republicans MUST be getting worried! This is the second or third time THIS WEEK that the paid* trolls have appeared.
    rulierose, as a Democrat, I just have just this to say to you - the "shift" key is your friend. Use it.
    jwebb98, I can trump your 1779 Jefferson: "The Congress shall have Power to...establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization..." Article I, Section 8, paragraph five of the US Constitution, 1787. In simpler terms, Federal law trumps state law in the matter of US citizenship.
    Twit. And no, that "twit" is NOT an ad hominem attack. It's firmly grounded by you attempting to "prove" President Obama's lack of valid citizenship by using something that doesn't apply.
    I would have thought that even a paid troll would know that 1787 came AFTER 1779, but apparently I'm wrong...

  • Anonymous on June 16, 2012 1:32 AM:

    I don't care what the "professional pundits" have to say about the speech in Cleveland. I listened to it via livestream and came away encouraged.

    I would have been surprised had those "professional pundits" expressed anything other than negativity. It was a speech by a Democrat, after all.

  • MassachussettsLiberalinDC on June 16, 2012 7:24 PM:

    The true success of these long policy speeches is how effectively they can be morphed into a 15-20 minute stump speech. Remember, the policy speech is important to show that you do actually have the policy solutions, but the stump speech is what gets repeated often on the nightly news and makes the greatest impression on the large segment of low-information voters.

    My first impression was that this speech has great potential for a fine stump speech.

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