JUNE 15, 2012
The verdict on Obama's Cleveland speech is in, and it's not pretty. As the Politicker blog sums it up: "President Obama’s Speech Gets A Thumbs Down From Political Press Corps." The blog elaborates:
In the speech, President Obama outlined his view that this election is a choice between “two fundamentally different views of which direction America should take.” He characterized Mitt Romney’s vision as being the same as the “policies of the last decade,” specifically deregulation and tax cuts for the wealthy while he described his own “vision for America” as boiling down to five things: “Education. Energy. Innovation. Infrastructure. And a tax code focused on American job creation and balanced deficit reduction.” President Obama also stressed that the economic crisis began during the Bush administration and that it “started growing again” after he took office and has since “continued to grow.”
All of these points have already been featured in the president’s other recent speeches. Between the pre-speech hype from the campaign, the lack of new material and the overall length of the speech reporters were clearly dissatisfied with end result. Read on for a sampling of Tweets from the political press slamming the president’s speech.
If you read on, I think what you mainly see is reporters missing the point.
Yes, the speech hit a lot of familiar themes. And, yes, it was long and convoluted. As a work of rhetoric, it's not going to win any awards. But the speech wasn't written to be anthologized in the president's collected works. It was written to reset the election as a contrast between Obama's vision of what government should do and Mitt Romney's vision. While Obama has tried to lay out that contrast before--most aggressively during a speech at an Associated Press lunch in April--the last several weeks have featured all manner of detours, like Romney's record at Bain and in the Massachusetts state house, to say nothing of the president's musings on the private-sector economy. The speech was an effort to revive the contrast in visions as the central theme of the campaign. If it accomplishes that--and, more importantly, if voters prefer Obama's vision to Romney's--then it will have been a success. And if not, it will have been a failure. But that has very little to do with the stylistic or headline-grabbing merits of the speech itself. There will be plenty of time for pithy formulations and new policy proposals. In the meantime, the political press corps should get over itself. These things aren't entirely about our viewing satisfaction, hard as it may be to believe.
Update: It briefly occurred to me while writing this to check out the local coverage of Obama's speech. That's one way to check whether it accomplished the strategic objective the White House was after in spite of the lousy reviews. As it happens, the Post's Greg Sargent did just that, and it does look like Obama got more out of it than the pundits suggested. Here's Sargent's brief review:
[T]he local papers in Ohio covered Obama’s speech yesterday, and Romney’s rebuttal to it, as a clash of economic visions. This is how it was framed on front page after front page, according to a roundup of front pages forwarded to me by a Democrat frustrated with Washington coverage of the speech.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer’s front page blared: “Obama, Romney bring battle to Ohio; president levels first explicit attack on GOP candidate.” The story offered a fairly detailed look at their “dueling economic messages.”
The Columbus Dispatch featured dueling stories, each one focused on each man’s speech, under the headline: “At Opposite Ends.” The story on Obama’s speech did talk about his recent “doing fine” gaffe, but featured a number of paragraphs laying out his vision.
The Toledo Blade front page was striking, featuring two large headlines juxtaposed. “Obama calls for help for middle class,” one blared. “Romney vows policies to cut deficit, aid jobs,” read the other. ...
Etc. Sargent's conclusion:
[T]his isn’t to say the speech was a success. The criticism of the speech is a bad process story for the Obama campaign and partly overshadowed its message in the national media. ...
But if the Obama campaign was hoping to reframe this election as a choice between two visions for moving the economy forward, rather than a referendum on the economic status quo, some of the local coverage did give the Obama team the framing they had hoped for.
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