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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Obama’s Speech a Net Plus

After reading a couple dozen different takes on Obama’s Philadelphia speech (NYT’s Janny Scott has the latest installment here and WaPo has a handful of articles today linked here), I am now prepared to render the judgement that it did him more good than harm. Shucks, no need to commend my vision and candor — the glory goes to Obama.
What I have been wondering for the last week is how one large and pivotal constituency, the white working class, including it’s subgroup the “Reagan Democrats” received Obama’s heartfelt oration, or even if any such broad generalization, pro or con, could be made. I’ve seen no post-speech poll cross tabs that lay it out clearly, although the latest Gallup polls since Obama’s March 18 speech show Obama holding steady against McCain. My assessment is also anchored in the collective shrug from that key constituency, other than a few paragraphs in comments sections following articles. What we don’t hear/read about is a chorus of complaining workers exploded in man-on-the-street round-up articles, or otherwise.
Don’t get me wrong. Obama’s speech was excellent, as measured by clarity, persuasive power and delivery. It is exactly the sort of speech that generates future royalties for the speaker when reprinted in ‘Great Speeches’ anthologies, chapters on ‘The Explanatory Speech.’ But I’m not sure it was a great campaign speech in the sense of winning hearts and minds among undecideds in general or the blue collar constituency in particular.
The speech was necessary — he had to respond in some way to the fuss about Rev. Wright. And speechifying is most definitely Obama’s strong card as a candidate. It was a wise decision to address the problem this way instead of issuing a press statement and then being subjected to endless media interviews in which he is less skilled and in which he would be vulnerable to attacks from the press. Ditto for debates, in which Clinton is a little sharper. Now he can just say “Well, I’ve already discussed that thoroughly in my speech, and don’t really have much to add.” No one will blame him, because most voters of all races are more interested in how a candidate is going to help get their kids educated, protect their retirement assets, fix the health care mess and get us out of Iraq.
Although Obama’s speech may not have won many new hearts and minds, it did the job well enough, which was to counter-balance the negative buzz about some of Rev. Wright’s sermons and what Obama thought about them. For that, hats off to David Axelrod, or whoever was responsible for the strategy and speechwriting for jobs well-done, as well as to the candidate himself for masterful delivery.
As a practical matter, however, campaign speeches are probably best measured by their fallout. This one was a winner in that regard, with more positive than negative buzz, even if most of it comes from the choir. When was the last time anybody got so much good ink from a speech? All in all, yet another impressive example of Team Obama’s edge in strategy and tactics.

2 comments on “Obama’s Speech a Net Plus

  1. Abby on

    Just to give credit where it is due, Obama wrote the speech himself, and the campaign claims that he gave it against the advice of his staff…

  2. sporcupine on

    Quite right that the “More Perfect Union” speech isn’t the one to capture the needed working-class votes.
    That will take a different speech, in a different town, followed by a wave of advertisements, town halls, appearances with the most relevant supporters, and lots of outreach work. The new speech will the foundation, showing thought and commitment, and then the other work builds the relationships.
    Once he gives that speech, it will be clear that the ideas there were already in the Union speech and in the Iraq/Economy speech two days later. Those two show that Obama has had some of the pieces ready for a long time, and that he’s building the others as we watch.
    Even then, I think the idea is to get enough of those votes, short of a majority, to show that Obama can get majorities in the fall. In the fall, he’ll be backed by the unions, backed by Rendell, and backed by the Clintons. That means he doesn’t have to lock those votes down now, just get enough of them to prove he can appeal to them.


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