September 5, 2008
A Week Since Invesco: Was It A Symphony or Playing Scales?By Lee Cary
Now that the makeshift temple at Denver's Invesco Field has been dismantled, and all the comments from the big media recorded, the question is: How will history compare the sizzle surrounding Obama's acceptance speech with the steak of its content?
Was it, as one CNN commentator said, "less a speech than a symphony," or, more the playing of partisan scales, albeit expertly done?
Before the event, a piece in the American Thinker asked the question, "Will Obama deliver his acceptance speech with his own voice, or return to the oratorical style that permeated his primary victory speeches when he used the voice of Martin Luther King?" The answer is that he spoke with his own voice for the first 4,398 of his 4,648 words, and then, only at the end, did he channel MLK's syntax, cadence and head gestures to flourish the finish. Consequently, what we heard last week didn't match the eloquence of his initial primary victory speeches.
The event rode high on the glitz of rock concert staging, garnished with Super Bowl fireworks, set against a backdrop meant to remind us of MLK's Lincoln Memorial "I Have A Dream" speech. It was an historic moment more for the mixed-race of the candidate than the content of his speech. The transcript of what he said reads today like other unremarkable, nomination acceptance speeches.
So what happened? This happened: Obama said that, "the stakes are too high for this same partisan playbook." But he used that same partisan playbook to craft his message.
Obama framed his speech against the dual allusion to Lincoln and King -- men of immortal words that include Lincoln's "with malice toward none, with charity for all," and King's, "Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of
bitterness and hatred."
Then, rather than match the tone of those two speeches, Obama dished out the same partisan hash, fried in the recycled grease of this worn recipe: The country is going to hell and it's the fault of the other party. Elect me; I'll fix it.
One commentator, FOX's Chris Wallace, called it a politically "smart" choice that enabled Obama to establish his Democratic Party creds by attacking the GOP with the red meat that had been conspicuously lacking in many of the preliminary Denver speeches. Perhaps.
But I believe that history will record it as the wrong choice. Thirty-eight million viewers tuned in, not just to witness political-racial history, but to bathe in historic rhetoric, to soar above partisan noise, to feel that moment when language assumes the transcendent mantle of near immortality -- as once did the words of Lincoln and King. But that's not what they heard.
What they got was standard, street-speak, political hyperbole. The American promise is threatened. Americans are jobless, homeless, unable to send their kids to college, as their cars sit idle because they can't afford gasoline. Veterans sleep in the streets, workers watch their factories being disassembled, families are impoverished -- all because of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. And then the inevitable kicker: McCain is just like them.
McCain thinks middle class people make 5 million dollars a year. He would privatize Social Security and "gamble your retirement." He "doesn't get it." He subscribes to the "discredited Republican philosophy" of "give more and more to those with the most and hope that prosperity trickles down to everyone else." All class-envy stuff heard before and often.
Obama said, "We Democrats have a very different measure of what constitutes progress in this country." We promise, he said, to "treat each other with dignity and respect," "reward drive and innovation and generate growth," "protect us from harm and provide every child a decent education," "keep our water clean and our toys safe"...and so on. Every promise of health and welfare except to eradicate tooth decay.
And so went Obama's laundry list of promises, with nothing new, as he meticulously squandered his chance to rise above the noise of stale acceptance speeches from the past and fly high. Instead, he'll "invest in early childhood education, recruit an army of new teachers, and pay them higher salaries and give them more support." More big federal government.
With each revolution of his interminable promise engine, each closing of corporate tax loopholes, each tightening of a bankruptcy law, each criticism of McCain's "stubborn refusal to end a misguided war" - with each ratcheting of routine rhetoric he descended lower as the steak of his content shriveled smaller when measured against the sizzle of the grandiose setting.
Then came that remarkable braggadocio statement: "If John McCain wants to have a debate about who has the temperament, and judgment, to serve as the next commander in chief, that's a debate I'm ready to have." This bravado challenge comes from a candidate who hid from his opponent all summer long! Amazing.
Obama criticized McCain for making "a big election about small things." But, because Obama made a speech about so many things, he made them small amidst the clutter of words. Following his litany of promises was like standing in a batting cage swinging at baseballs from a pitching machine turned up to max speed, gone berserk. Now what did he just say about AK-47's? Wait, now he's talking about same-sex marriage. Help, I can't keep up!
Perhaps his most amazing statement was, "If you don't have a record to run on, then you paint your opponent as someone people should run from." Which is exactly what Obama, who has no record to run on, did to McCain. He painted McCain as the reincarnation of the evil Bush-Cheney, as Oprah cried her false eyelashes off, couples hugged and wept, and most big media commentators verbally swooned.
The final irony came when Obama flipped his oratorical toggle switch to channel MLK. It was spooky. He said the people who came to hear the young preacher from Georgia "could've heard words of anger and discord." But what they heard, he said, was that "in America, our destiny is inextricably linked." And therein lies the fundamental irony in Barack Obama's acceptance speech.
Once upon a time, standing before a temple to the great man who lived and died the immortal words "with malice toward none, with charity for all," another great man chose not to speak "words of anger and discord."
But last week, before the faux temple at Invesco Field, Barack Obama chose to speak partisan "words of anger and discord," and thereby missed his moment for greatness.
He played scales, not a symphony. And as proof of that, note its absence of memorable lines, and how quickly it sank from the news.