In Charlotte last night, President Barack Obama gave a characteristically well-delivered speech that energized the party faithful and fired up his base. The man is a terrific speaker. If Mitt Romney manages to replace him in the Oval Office, he won’t because of a triumph of oratorical skills. Romney may, however, do so because of a triumph of substance and record—both of which Obama’s convention speech noticeably lacked. The president’s oration was high on style but low on content and specifics. Here’s my blow-by-blow analysis:
Obama began with what was not only his theme for the speech but for the campaign going forward. His one time hope is now countered by realism; that is, the reality that Obama’s promises of 2008, particularly on the economic front, have not been realized. And yet, Obama has reasons for those failures—they were not his doing. His “hope,” he said, had been tempered by “the face of difficulty,” by “the face of uncertainty.” It turned out, explained Obama, that “the odds are great … the road is long.” His promises had been “tested—by the cost of war; by one of the worst economic crises in history; and by political gridlock that’s left us wondering whether it’s still possible to tackle the challenges of our time.”
Here, in essence, was a more sophisticated, high-road spin on the tired Obama mantra that “it’s Bush’s fault”—but with a new wrinkle tossed in: it’s also the Republican Congress’s fault.
Of course, to anyone who has paid attention over the last four years, and who has a modicum more objectivity than the acolytes on the Charlotte floor jumping up and down with “Forward” placards, it’s clear that Congressional gridlock was hardly Barack Obama’s obstacle these past four years. To the contrary, from 2009-10 Obama enjoyed a huge liberal-Democrat majority in Congress, one that gave him everything he wanted. That included a stunning $800-billion “stimulus” that not only failed to stimulate but singlehandedly blew the single largest hole into the deficit in American history.
Alas, this speech made no reference to the stimulus, nor to the HHS mandate that forced taxpayer funding of contraception and abortion drugs.
Mindful and faithful Catholics surely noticed those sins of omission. They might have also noted President Obama’s lack of references to religious liberty and religious freedom and, most certainly, the unborn. To the contrary, all of those themes would need to await Cardinal Dolan’s beautiful and bold benediction, evoking the “gift of life,” the “gift of liberty,” those “waiting to be born,” those “persecuted for their religious convictions,” the “laws of Nature and Nature’s God,” and the need for a “profound respect for religious liberty.” Dolan’s courageous prayer sounded like an elegant synthesis of Evangelium Vitae and the Declaration of Independence—and no doubt had the Democratic faithful reeling and asking: “Who the [expletive] allowed this guy to speak?”
Indeed, I listened closely, and I’m fairly certain I heard some boos drowning out the “amens” at the end of Dolan’s prayer. And why would that surprise us? Gee, these Democrats were divided over whether to even mention God in their platform.
If Dolan’s benediction struck some Democrats as the biggest disappointment of the closing hour of their convention, the biggest applause line of the evening came in response to Obama’s statement blasting “Washington politicians who want to decide who you can marry or control healthcare choices that women should make for themselves.” That line brought the faithful to their feet. FoxNews caught a 60-something woman so emphatic that you could read her lips: “That’s right!” she shouted as she shook her fists. “That’s right!”
That statement from Obama was also, of course, a nod to gay marriage. Obama’s gay references electrified the delegates. The second largest applause line in the president’s speech was his celebration of those “selfless soldiers [who] won’t be kicked out of the military because of who they are or who they love.” That, too, brought down the house. And there was still a third (direct) reference to “gays.”
In all, homosexuals got three more mentions than the unborn—standard fare for a Barack Obama speech.
Mentioned more than gays, however, were several inter-related demons in the president’s speech, all routine antagonists in any Obama speech or event orchestrated by his master strategist David Axelrod—namely, the nefarious “wealthy,” those greedy “corporations,” “oil companies,” and “Wall Street.” Like any Obama-Axelrod speech, the class-warfare cannons were fired often. Rearing their ugly heads were the “wealthiest households” that are “sticking it to the middle class.” There were those evildoers who make “the most” but “pay less.” There were those bad Republicans who always want to cut taxes. (As a Republican, this was an Obama dig that I happily accept.) There were those who want “bigger tax cuts and fewer regulations,” who turn things “over to Wall Street,” who thrive on “tax breaks for corporations,” and who place us all “at the mercy of insurance companies.”
But, alas, Barack Obama appealed to better angels in this speech—and not just those angels supposedly pervading the federal government. Indeed, in what was no doubt a response to the intense criticism over the exclusion of God by the Democrats, Obama last night delivered one of his most religious speeches. He first noted that Americans are endowed “by our Creator with certain inalienable rights”—though he wasn’t about to go where Cardinal Dolan went. He next mentioned the importance of “churches and charities.”
Better yet, in a line likely inserted by David Axelrod, a Lincoln aficionado, Obama quoted one of my all-time favorite faith-based presidential remarks: “I’m far more mindful of my own failings, knowing exactly what Lincoln meant when he said, ‘I have been driven to my knees many times by the overwhelming conviction that I had no place else to go.’”
As a Reagan biographer, I know that Lincoln line well. It was a favorite of Ronald Reagan.
Obama wasn’t finished with the invocations of faith. He at long last linked his words of hope to the words of Scripture: “They remind me, in the words of Scripture, that ours is a ‘future filled with hope.’”
Obama then closed with a soaring, moving crescendo: “Providence is with us … we are surely blessed to be citizens of the greatest nation on Earth. God bless you! And may God bless these United States!”
Ah, yes. God … once excluded, now included—back with great force at the close of the Democratic convention. At this mention of God, the party faithful, dizzied into a rapturous joy, didn’t shout “no.”
But will that be enough for Obama and the Democrats? For now, only God knows. The rest of us will learn this November.