It's either a case of my personal preference for Clinton's 'data + Bubba' style, or President Obama needs new speech writers. Perhaps it's both.
I recognize that the DNC acceptance speech was not intended as a detailed policy speech. Leaving the wisdom of that decision aside, there were glaring elements nonetheless. I'll focus on one deficiency in particular.
Midway through his speech, President Obama spoke of 'no party having all the wisdom' and 'democracy requires compromise'. This was a good line mixing philosophy and practicality. It was the voice of reason - and President Obama's tone matched.
However, with the very next sentence, President Obama's tone hardened, and he began to recite a litany of things he 'refuses' to do. This is where I was baffled.
Firstly, I was baffled because President Obama has compromised on every item that he spoke of. Much to their chagrin, Obama's base is likely to know the compromises, but the less informed of the 'undecideds' is unlikely to know of the extent to which Obama compromised. He met Republicans not just in the middle - but even way over on their side of the governing philosophy line. These were the bare facts that were not communicated.
Secondly, I was baffled that Obama did not offer a personal element to this that allowed undecideds to put names and faces to the GOP 'Party of No'. He could easily have brought up some inside ball story regarding the Boehner meetings - and the deal that went sour. He could have mentioned that Grover Norquist - a non-elected official - forced Republicans to go back on a $4 trillion deficit reduction deal with $10 in cuts to every $1 in tax revenue (from the millionaires mind you). If not the voters, who does Norquist work for then? Who does the GOP work for?
Who we work for would have then been presented as the natural pivot to discuss the middle class and specific legislation that Obama and the Democrats have proposed for creating jobs, reducing the debt, etc.
These details could be conveyed to any sufficiently interested voter in the space of 30 seconds. However, by taking a minute to talk about things he 'refuses' to consider, Obama comes off just as inflexible and dogmatic as the GOP - which he is not.
Obama could have both motivated the base (Grover Norquists' name tends to do that) and also appealed to undecideds (10 to 1 is a strong number).
Do I blame this just on speech writers? No. Bill Clinton showed that you don't have to roll with what's on the teleprompter, and that guy really gets the audience rockin' and rollin'. More importantly, his tone and substance were far more persuasive.
Here's my unsolicited and probably unwelcome advice to Obama...fire the speechwriters lest you take an unnecessary risk of being fired yourself. Economy aside, it's hard for me to fathom that he's threatened by Romney and Ryan.
I was challenged by a poster to a line-by-line analysis of Obama's comments. Here goes:
But when Gov. Romney and his allies in Congress tell us we can somehow lower our deficit by spending trillions more on new tax breaks for the wealthy- well, you do the math. I refuse to go along with that.Obama did extend the Bush tax cuts. Yes, he did that after he campaigned on repealing them. So he may do it again in the name of compromise, which might not be wrong to some, but also makes his 'I refuse' a bit confusing.
I refuse to ask students to pay more for collegeObama's plan is to cut annual tuition cost increases by 50%...which is another way of saying that he will let students pay more. So it would be better to say, 'I refuse to change the system in which tuition goes higher every year and we continue to charge students interest on their loans'. Again, you can debate the merits of his approach, but his words don't match his actions.
No American should ever have to spend their golden years at the mercy of insurance companies.Obama is going right along with Medicare Part D, which is private supplemental insurance. An alternative would be to simply extend prescription drug coverage and get lower rates by doing group buys. However, Obama made a deal with Big Pharma in which he specifically agreed to not pursue drug group buys like Canada does.
or eliminate health insurance for millions of Americans who are poor, elderly, or disabledThe public option would have covered more, for less cost. Obama promised a public option and then dropped it immediately during negotiations. Wise or not, that's hardly a 'refusing' mentality. Again, America might not want a public option enough to make it worth fighting for, but dropping it was certainly a compromise on his campaign promise. And if it was wise to do that, wouldn't it be even wiser to explain so?
And we will keep the promise of Social Security by taking the responsible steps to strengthen itThe Bowles and Simpson commission has called for raising the normal retirement age, and Obama has endorsed this. While that might be necessary, it is a change that many would feel is not in keeping with what Social Security promised them while they were paying in.
Here's the full text:As the saying goes...'words matter'.
But when Gov. Romney and his allies in Congress tell us we can somehow lower our deficit by spending trillions more on new tax breaks for the wealthy- well, you do the math. I refuse to go along with that. And as long as I'm president, I never will.
I refuse to ask middle class families to give up their deductions for owning a home or raising their kids just to pay for another millionaire's tax cut. I refuse to ask students to pay more for college; or kick children out of Head Start programs, or eliminate health insurance for millions of Americans who are poor, elderly, or disabled- all so those with the most can pay less.
And I will never turn Medicare into a voucher. No American should ever have to spend their golden years at the mercy of insurance companies. They should retire with the care and dignity they have earned. Yes, we will reform and strengthen Medicare for the long haul, but we'll do it by reducing the cost of health care- not by asking seniors to pay thousands of dollars more. And we will keep the promise of Social Security by taking the responsible steps to strengthen it- not by turning it over to Wall Street.
If you want to support Obama (as I probably will), I highly doubt it will be because of this speech. Unfortunately, that's a missed opportunity for him to persuade others who might not tune in later.
I would submit that Obama is not as progressive as many take him to be. You can debate the wisdom of his pragmatism, or even subscribe his actions to a 'long term plan', but he's hardly the standard bearer making a persuasive case for progressive policies. He is not 'out front'...rather he's standing behind people like Bill Clinton. Again, that may be a wise tactical decision, but is it a sound strategy for advancing a progressive agenda?