Friday, August 29, 2008

Thoughts on the Democratic Convention

The Democratic Convention ended last night with Barack Obama's speech. Here's what I think ...

First, Obama's speech was good, but not great. And by great, I mean in the inspiration, lofty sort of way that I've come to expect Obama's public addresses. But, then again, I like the hope, change, and inspiration style of speechmaking. I like to be emotionally moved by a speaker. But, you see, Obama is often criticized for this kind of speech. These critics say that Obama doesn't get to specifics, he doesn't highlight policy details, he doesn't demonstrate a groundedness in real world issues, etc., etc. But that's what this speech did. And did effectively. Without too much of the high-reaching inspirational framing. So, while I thought the speech was only good, and not great because of this; others might think it was better than usual for Obama because of this. I think that this was the target audience Obama was angling for.

But, what I really think was the organizational and planning brilliance of the Convention, especially the decision to have the last night's events in the outdoor stadium, was the powerful, but subtle imagery of a diverse, united, relaxed, and human gathering of friends, family, and community. Forget the speeches. Forget even Obama's speech. What I craved all night in the coverage were those moments in between speakers when the music was playing and the cameras were panning around the crowds, capturing their camaraderie and their excitement. It made the entire convention about real people and not the politicians giving speeches. It showed an incredible diversity of people sharing in a social community event valued by everyone in attendance as more than just a picnic. It was like attending a New Orleans Saint's football game in the Superdome. Saints fans take their Sunday treks to the Superdome seriously and passions about the outcome of the game are intense. But it is also (and always) an electric moment of community when black, white, young, old, rich, poor, etc., give high fives, hug, cheer, jeer, drink beer, and just give in to the real community vibe. There are also moments at Saints games when the focus is turned on the fans instead of the playing field. The cameras turn on the people in the stadium and project them on the big screen for everyone to see. It shows people like me just there doing my fan thing. And when fans get the focus of the camera, everyone in the stadium tunes in to see what the featured fans are doing at the moment the cameras are zooming in on them, and then what their reactions are once they realize they are on the screen. We love it. We eat it up. It's often funny, sometimes even touching, and always humanizing.

And then when Barack Obama gets up there and says something like: "They just don't get it. It's not about me. It's about you. Always has been, always will be," it sinks in, it resonates. And we in the viewing audience, who have absorbed the great diversity and humanity of that "you" in the stadium, can get just as moved and choked up and proud and patriotic as any inspirational speech any candidate might give.

So, Obama's speech, considered by itself out of the context and the environment in which it was given, was, I think, not his best and left much to be desired as a piece of inspirational rhetoric. But if one thinks of the Convention as not really about that single speech, nor any single speech, except to consider them as sidebars to a community event where the folks in the stands were the real focus, then one might fairly think that the Convention was a brilliant and smashing and moving and inspirational success.

I'll be curious to see how the GOP convention plays out. My suspician is that it will be much more hierarchical, rigid, monotonous, scripted, and homogenous.


Adrastos said...

I'm not as big on uplift as you are so I thought it was an exceptional speech. It was aimed at Dems like me who have worried he was tough enough to combat the Repub slime machine. It worked.

Huck said...

I'm glad it worked. I think that is what Obama intended. We'll get much more inspirational speeches on the stump, but Obama had the biggest national platform to try to reach those fence-sitters suspcious of his usual rhetorical uplift. And he took advantage of it. Overall, I think the Convention was a strategic success. Now, we watch McCain and the GOP. Thanks for the comment.