Two Presidents and a Vice President: The Speeches

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on September 7, 2012

I hadn’t commented on the Bill Clinton speech at the Democratic National Convention because my understanding is that he only just finished it.

Kidding! I kid. Actually, despite its length–and Clinton really should have left the audience wanting more, like any other good orator would have done–it was a very good set piece. There is no doubt whatsoever that his ability to riff and improvise is very impressive indeed, and this piece allows us something of a one-of-a-kind peek into Clinton’s mindscape as he improvises a speech. Of course, it is worth noting that the fact-checkers were not as kind to Clinton as he might have hoped, which is something we surely would hear more about if Clinton were a Republican.

But again, it was a very good speech and Clinton showed off once more his massive political talent. But while the Clinton speech was meant to help Barack Obama look good, it actually served to harm the president in a number of ways, since the Obama speech simply did not measure up to expectations.

As Kevin Drum–no right-winger, he–points out, the president basically phoned in his speech. He didn’t look nearly as pleased to be able to speak to the convention as Clinton did the night before. He tried to offer lots of soaring oratory, but instead, all we got were recycled promises and words from past speeches. I know that stump speeches are supposed to be repeated over and over, but a convention acceptance speech is not supposed to be a stump speech (though it can lay the groundwork for one). It is supposed to be something separate and apart, and we didn’t get that from this president.

I saw some chatter on Twitter stating that the speech was more of a State of the Union than a convention acceptance speech, but I can’t buy into that. A State of the Union would have given us a programmatic vision of the things a president wants to accomplish. In the Obama acceptance speech, however, we got generalizations regarding what the Obama campaign claimed was accomplished over the past four years, exceedingly vague comments about an agenda for the next four years (whose rhetoric we are all familiar with), and lots of attacks on Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. Speaking of which, during the speech, there was no mention of Ryan’s name, and only one reference to Romney by name. The overwhelming majority of the time, Romney was simply referred to as “my opponent.” This struck me as incredibly disrespectful–one at least gives one’s opponent the courtesy of referring to him/her by name–and it made the speech sound arrogant and contemptuous. There wasn’t even an effort to congratulate Romney and Ryan for getting their party’s nomination, and to express the hope that the two campaigns would be able to conduct a meaningful and worthwhile debate in the run-up to November. The whole speech lacked class.

I marveled at the audacity–or “brass,” as Bill Clinton would have put it–of denigrating Romney’s and Ryan’s foreign policy experience; anyone remember all of the criticisms of Senator Obama’s lack of experience at anything back in 2008, and how we were told that all of that criticism didn’t matter since Obama’s management of his campaign meant that he was a good executive and that he would be a good president? Anyone remember how concerns back in 2008 that Obama wasn’t too versed in foreign policy were laughed off by his campaign? And now they have the nerve to claim that Romney and Ryan should be dinged for a lack of foreign policy experience? How incredibly laughable.

“Oba-meh”? Yeah, pretty much. Romney’s speech was more emotional, heartfelt, and stirring than the president’s was, and it is perfectly clear that the president did not meet expectations. Those expectations may have been high, but them’s the breaks when you have a reputation as a good orator. He failed to deliver.

Oh, and there was Joe Biden. I missed some of his speech but I caught much of the second half. And what I saw was completely unimpressive. And I mean that literally. I missed this segment, but it is just horrid:

It amazes me that there are some people who are still willing to claim that Biden is a good orator. It seems that every time he opens his mouth, Republicans get a gift.

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