DNC: Day 4. Enough!
When Barack Obama took the stage at Invesco Field last night to formally accept the Democratic nomination, I had the distinct feeling I was about to watch a rock band’s farewell concert. Prior to beginning his speech, the now not-presumptive Democratic nominee spent at least two full minutes thanking the crowd and basking in the messianic glow that has earned him a rather creepy New Republic cover and the criticism of the significantly less sexy McCain campaign. But in all fairness, this was Barack’s first and only moment by himself in the DNC spotlight so far. Aside from a brief cameo after Biden’s speech on Wednesday (John Stewart: “I just happened to be across the hall filming my Christmas special!) and a simulcast during Michelle Obama’s on Tuesday, Barack has been largely absent from the DNC proceedings, smartly reinforcing Hillary’s statement that the issue at stake is the dream, not the candidate. For this reason, when Barack did begin to speak, and on the 45th anniversary of MLK’s “I Have A Dream” speech, no less, I was expecting him to deliver the same kind of knockout rhetorical punch that first earned him his reputation as the rock star politician.
This, however, was not what we got.
In a speech shaped by specifics, by policy stances and yes, by the occasional dull moment, Obama matched his substance with his rhetoric, soundly defeating the Republican criticism that his campaign is constituted by little more than hype and hot air. In addition to taking a stolidly centrist position on issues of immigration, gun control and gay marriage, Obama positioned himself as a defender of the lower and middle classes, making economic development one of the central focuses of his speech, and attacking McCain’s allegiance to trickle-down economics:
For over two decades, he’s subscribed to that old, discredited Republican philosophy – give more and more to those with the most and hope that prosperity trickles down to everyone else. In Washington, they call this the Ownership Society, but what it really means is – you’re on your own. Out of work? Tough luck. No health care? The market will fix it. Born into poverty? Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps – even if you don’t have boots. You’re on your own.
While few of Obama’s positions are as progressive as many liberals would like, the force of his campaign comes from the refusal to accept politics as they are, or as the Republicans would like them to continue. In his speech, Obama struck a balance between the necessity of reclaiming the American dream, of abstracting from politics as usual, and the concrete details of how this can happen. In doing this, as Slate’s John Dickerson has observed, he also may have hit upon a new note for his campaign:
Obama may also have found himself a new slogan: “Enough.” “Change vs. more of the same” is the phrase we hear all the time, but a better, more forceful pitch came early in the speech. After one of several passages in which he described the troubles of everyday people, he said, “Tonight I say to the American people, to Democrats and Republicans and independents across this great land—enough!”