Friday, September 7, 2012

Barack Obama's acceptance speech, graded

How did President Barack Obama do last night? The members of the editorial board offered our immediate thoughts after the speech. Now, our popular political communications professor, Wake Forest's Allan Louden, is back with his class to critique both of Thursday's major speeches.

Louden, a national champion debate coach who has worked with politicians such as Elizabeth Dole, provided insightful analysis of speeches and debate performances for us in 2008. We're glad he's back - with company.

On Obama, here's Louden:

Four years ago Barack Obama stood in Denver’s Invesco stadium to deliver the most important speech of his young political career, acceptance of the Democrat nomination for the Presidency. The speech did not match the earlier campaign’s exultant rhetoric but intentionally sought to manage the soring enthusiasm, lower expectations of a campaign that risked becoming too sizzling.

In Charlotte the president’s task was not to tamp down uninhibited fervor but to evoke the magic of 2008. It was a moment that would welcome a transcendent moment that Obama has proven capable of delivering. That did not happen Thursday night; the delegates cheered a competent speech, politically astute, with flashes that inspired, but generally witnessed an address more akin to a State-of-the-Union, listing goals and programs, or a stump speech in Ohio, than discourse that would rally a nation.

The speech remained largely political but in the last half sought to cement the party’s distinctions. He tipped his hat to values that Republican’s present as their monopoly, individualism, boot-straps, but also strongly advanced the case for government. The rare moment of something new in the speech ironically evoked an earlier era, “We also believe in something called citizenship - a word at the very heart of our founding, at the very essence of our democracy; the idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another, and to future generations.

At the conclusion of Obama’s address, for an elongated cameo, he stood alone. He was slowly joined by his family, but never shared the typically crowded stage of party royalty, rallying in solidarity--the lone warrior, the sole crusader. This seemed to stand in contrast with the more powerful elements of his speech.

Obama has long had the ability to evoke the humble even as he boasted accomplishment. In this speech he also shared the responsibility for success with the American people. These devices marked the high points of his address while also blunted criticism of “promises keep” and unmet expectations.

Obama confessed, “And while I'm proud of what we've achieved together, 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."

The responsibility was not just his, but shared by an American vision. “I'm hopeful because of you . . . the election four years ago wasn't about me. It was about you. My fellow citizens - you were the change. You're the reason there's a little girl with a heart disorder in Phoenix who'll get the surgery she needs because an insurance company can't limit her coverage. You did that.

These lines remind one of Obama’s eloquence, a power to invite adherence. The speech however was much more about being commanding, sturdy, and fearless. Electorally that may be a reality, arguably what we think a president must be, but a cost was to contravene the speeches uniqueness, to appear visibly political.

In the end, on that stage he stood alone.

Grade: B

On Obama, Louden's students:

Entering the final night of the convention, it was clear that the president needed to address his past four years and make clear that he has, in fact, accomplished something. Additionally, he needed to explain, in greater detail than his opponent, his actual plan for the next four years. Most importantly, however, was the need to re-inspire and energize the base, reminding them to have hope again in their leader.

Obama did exactly what was expected of him during this speech at the 2012 DNC. The president attacked Romney and the Republican Party for old and irrelevant tactics while emphasizing his commitment to moving America forward with innovative and pertinent ideas. The president discussed getting back to the basics and getting in touch with what the American dream once meant for Americans by developing an economy where most products are not imported but made in America with better quality and wages. He also focused on many of the achievements in oil and gas consumption. He offered a solid path for economic growth through manufacturing jobs and natural gas. He made strong appeals to the working class by addressing the movement of jobs overseas, and addressed students by stating his efforts toward student loan improvements and tuition costs.

Veterans were also addressed due to issues of health care access and the president ensuring that veterans will receive the care they need upon returning home. He briefly touched on foreign policy, while emphasizing the weakness of his opponent in this area; Romney’s gaffes recently provided Obama the opportunity to question his opponent’s qualifications compared to his own four years of experience.

If Mitt Romney has been positioned by the media and his opposition as a man of privilege, unable to relate to the average American, then Barack Obama has tried very hard to position himself the embodiment of the American Dream, a young man who was able to pull himself up and forged his own path to success. Little of the president’s speech focused on his opponent and their differences directly, but implications abounded.

Throughout the speech, the emphasis was on buzzwords and popular language about returning to a strong, independent America, where education is a right, not a luxury afforded by some and at too great an expense for others, and where individuals are free to marry and build a life with whomever they fall in love with, regardless of gender.

President Obama sought to appeal to the working and middle class, focusing on issues that are relevant to their day-to-day life. By appealing to the base, those frustrated by the economy, and encouraging turn out, Obama used the convention to ask, repeatedly, for like-minded voters to turn out in November. His final minutes were full of stories of Americans who inspire him and give him hope as he continued to try to inspire some within voters. It was inspiring at times - yet a regurgitation of the same ideas.

Overall Speech: B+/A-

(Students contributing were April Walsh, Morgen Olson, Sheriah Phelps, Chloe Potash, Philip Rohrer, Grant Shambley and Jessica Pic.)

Students on Vice President Joe Biden:

Inside a jam-packed Time Warner Cable Arena Vice President Joe Biden addressed a very enthusiastic crowd Thursday night in Charlotte. Sharing personal experiences (“Barack and I have been through a lot together”) that he has witnessed over the last four years, using personal experiences from his life, and explaining why Mitt Romney is not the answer for the American people. Biden reiterated why President Obama is the right man to run the United States of America.

Biden provided a great contrast of vision and values between Obama and Romney. He preached the character of leadership of Obama, and puts a dim light over those of Romney. He said that Obama is willing to take risks that others don’t understand

Biden eloquently expressed his feelings towards Romney in regards to the automobile industry bailout. “Romney saw it the Bain way, in terms of balance sheets and write offs. The Bain way may lead to higher profits, but it is not the way to lead our country from the highest office.” Once again, the view of Romney being machine-like came to mind. A man who is all about results, who forgets about the compassion one should show another. The argument plays to the middle class and this kind of argument seems to be the bread and butter for the Obama/Biden campaign.

Without a doubt, Biden and Obama have had to face a financial crisis that is often compared to the great depression. Times have been difficult for people. “If you took responsibility you’d get a fair shot at a better life, and the values behind that bargain were the values that shaped the both of us, and many of you. Today, those are Barack’s guiding stars.” If only this were true.

Biden’s mission, however, was clear in contrasting the characters of Obama and Romney. Biden provided the audience in Charlotte with a personal, inside perspective of president Obama and his “profound concern for the American people.” He assured the people that President Obama has made very “gutsy decisions” while in office and that his heart is in the right place for the United States.

(John Mcleod, Sam Swank, Ryan Heuler, Nate Jones)


J said...

I thought the President made a good speech (as opposed to great, as Clinton's was).

Despite being a polar opposite of just about every line of the Democrat platform and just about every stance the President has taken, I really tried to listen this week, to give the other side a fair shot. By the time Bidenopolis took the stage, I was tapped out. And his speech was terrible. Very touching beginning about his dogged pursuit of Jill. Once he started spewing those outright lies about the GM bailout - BO never, for one second, ever cared about anyone but the goons at the head of the UAW; that was the one and only thing he saved, or ever wanted to save - I gave up any notion of being fair to the other side. Particularly nausiating to me was after telling the wonderful story of his dad's dedication to his job, he had the nerve to say, "To him, his job was about his dignity." Really? Then why has this administration done everything humanly possible to get as many people completely dependent on government as possible? Why is the administration celebrating a record number of people on food stamps and disability as a good thing?

The President's speech was much easier to swallow. I found one point of total agreement - when he said of Republicans, "since government can't do everything, they want government to do almost nothing." OK, we completely agree there.

So I came through both conventions unchanged in my opinions. But I didn't expect to, and I don't think anyone who was solidly on either side is changed either. I wonder what independents are thinking now that both shows are over.

The debates are going to be interesting. Naturally, they will all be moderated by hard-core liberals who are completely in the tank for Obama, so I'm interested to see how Romney is going to fare in these 1-against-2 battles.