Obama's Best Speech Yet

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THE PLANK FEBRUARY 12, 2008

Obama's Best Speech Yet

It's been a week or so since I've heard Obama's stump speech, so
maybe this is old news.  But -- wow -- he is really going after John
McCain.  And he's doing a damn fine job of it.

He started by
honoring McCain's service, with all apparent sincerity, and then
pivoted quickly to this line: "John McCain has the wrong priorities --
because they are bound to the policies of the past." He then promised
"a clear choice," tying McCain to the Bush tax cuts and, in particular,
the war in Iraq: "John McCain won't be able to say I ever
supported this war in Iraq, because I opposed it from the start.
Senator McCain said the other day we mght
be mired for a hundred years in iraq. A hundred years -- which is
reason enough not to give him four years in the White House."**

The
rest of the speech was Obama at its best: Compared to his early
speeches, he's far more deft at weaving policy into his promises of
movement-building. As I said previously, where he used to talk about
change for change's sake, now he talks about specific changes -- and
how he intends to build a popular mandate for those changes.

He's
also doing a nice job of mixing the old Clintonian theme of rights and
responsibliity.  Talking about his proposals for college tuition
assistance, coupled with national service, he promsied, "We'll invest
in you, you invest in your country, together we'll move forward, that's
what we dream of."

Towards the end of the speech, he returned to
his theme of "yes we can" -- but in a way different than I had heard
before. (Again, maybe he's been doing this lately and I just missed
it.)  He tied that theme to all the great movements in American history
-- the revolutionaries who fought the British for independence, the
abolitionists who crusaded against slavery, the Greatest Generation who
served in World War II, the Civil Rights movement, and so on.  Not only
did this cloak his ideas in the mantle of patriotism, which is always a
good thing, but linked them -- once again -- to tangible, pivotal
changes in American life, which is precisely what his campaign
needs to be promising.

One final note -- and please forgive a little
theatrical commentary here.  I've had the opportunity to do some public speaking lately. And I've found, as I'm sure others have, that
there are some nights when you are on and some when you are off -- some
nights when you feel it and some nights when you just don't.  I suppose
it's like any other performance art or sport in that way.  

Well,
tonight I thought Obama felt it.  He was at turns funny and poignant,
cool and yet energized.  I thought it was his best speech yet.*

*Yea, I think I said that last time.  Why do I think I'll be saying it again soon? 

 --Jonathan Cohn 

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