It's difficult for me to write about Barack Obama's speech last night. Basically, I feel an actual kinship with Barack Obama and his campaign for the first time -- not because of his emotional appeals, but because of the obvious skill and the kind of skill they're demonstrating. My feeling of kinship makes me think I'm entirely incapable of anything impartial for the next little while.
A little background: I have, on occasion, tutored people on how to write essays for university classes. Mostly for friends, sometimes for money. The hardest thing to teach people about writing a decent essay is that there really isn't anything hard about it. A decent paper has a structure that it adheres to rigorously and an internal logic that, when you're done reading, should seem inescapable. Flair in writing -- when we're talking academia -- is more often than not a waste of time. With syllabus in one hand and a blank sheet of paper in the other, you've got a job to do and the best way to approach it is as a workman: check the boxes, build the frame, fill it out, paint the walls. I love, love, love how surprised people are when, after a string of Cs and B minuses, they realize how easy it is to get an A.
Now, I couldn't have written Barack Obama's speech last night. Nor could I have planned the Convention, nor would anyone have been better off if I'd had anything to do with this party. But looking back on the last week, it's clear that someone with a workmanlike mindset planned the last 4 days. Day 1 is properly about Obama, or rather his wife. The convention is rightly about him, so it makes sense to start the party with her. Days 2 and 3 are devoted to healing the rift between the two wings of the party, which was done magnificently by the Clintons, and Day 4 is back to being about Obama, and more importantly being about the future he proposes. Al Gore's speech set Obama as the heir to Lincoln himself, and Obama's speech was extremely powerful. Check the boxes, build the frame, fill it out, paint the walls.
And through it all, the speeches become more and more pointedly about how bad John McCain is and will be for America. If we could watch the video of the last four days of the DNC on fast-forward and still comprehend what was going on, I guarantee that is what would stand out: the attacks on John McCain start off tepid on day 1 and are pretty sharp indeed by the time of John Kerry's barn-burner on Wednesday. And then on Thursday, Barack Obama brings the battle-axe: the kind of weapon you use to cleave a man in two, or just bust his shit down while he's inside, wondering which house he'll move in to next. We should all get t-shirts: It doesn't matter which house you're in Johnny, we're coming after you.
But compared to previous speeches, it was not flashy. We saw, not for the first time but most publicly, Obama dive in to the meat of his proposals and run on a policy platform, something we haven't seen much of since February in the primaries. But the flash didn't need to be spoken aloud: the context itself lent the event all the flash it needed. On the 45th anniversary of King's Dream (something Obama wisely mentioned only briefly, at the end) in a crowd of 80,000 people, all assembled to make him the next President, and the first Black President, we didn't need to be convinced that this was a special moment in history. What we needed to be convinced of was Obama's ability to beat McCain, and that it would be worthwhile to do so.
Mission accomplished, as they say.
For all the freaking out the Democrats were doing around Tuesday (freaking out being what Democrats do in their resting state) it's clear, in retrospect, that these people know what the hell they're doing, it's working, and we should calm the hell down. Consider: is there anything on the horizon that could be as damaging to Candidate Obama as Rev. Wright? "Bitter"-gate? Obama's campaign has handled every patch of rough water like an expert pilot. My friends are still asking me if I'm sure Obama will win, or if that's just what I hope will happen.
The answer is yes. It's nice, and rare, to be certain about our hopes.
I woke up this morning to the news that McCain has announced his sacrifical running lamb, Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska. It's difficult to see a pick that could possibly come off worse: an attempt to split Democrats with clumsy tokenism, instantly neutralizing the "experience" charge, and emphasizing McCain's age at the same time as making it clear that if the worst should happen a total neophyte would be in the Oval Office. As the cops say, thank God they're stupid.
UPDATE: Oh man this is sad. After last night, watching CNN do wide shots of John McCain's event just looks so damn small.