Because I had a plane to catch early Friday morning, I missed most of the commentary and punditry about President Obama's speech Thursday night. That was probably a good thing.
After the long trip home and 36-hour stint without sleep, I thought I was hallucinating when I saw this headline from The Politico. Surely I must have been seeing things, because the one thing President Obama's speech did not do was "fall flat." Even Reuters got in the act with their headline about playing "fast and loose with the facts" while actually affirming that the president did not twist facts.
Here's what the president's speech was from one who was sitting in an audience of thousands watching him speak. It was humble, and it was realistic and it laid out a vision not just for the immediate future, but the long term. It also had some messages for the people who are not ultra-partisan. It wasn't designed for the base; it was intended to reach past an already fired-up base into that small, very small group of people who are still undecided. Yes, they're out there and they matter.
Since flashman's ghost over at Daily Kos did such a great job of analyzing the speech, I'm just going to quote some the post here, and encourage you to read the whole thing there:
It's easy -- and mistaken -- to see the story of the Presidential election of 2008 as being all, to coin a phrase, hopey-changey. What happened in 2008 -- the election of a black man with a funny-sounding name to the Presidency -- was and is an extraordinary symbol of our nation's ability to grow up, however slowly and painfully: to become the people we want to be. To be, well, America, the America of our hearts and dreams, and not that strange ugly place Dick Cheney represents. It was intensely moving that we could do that (I'm not that old, and I will freely admit I never thought I'd see it in my own lifetime).
Indeed, it was so moving that for too many people that became the story. And if you tell it that way, every book, movie, and folk tale we've consumed all of our lives tells us that after Inauguration Day in 2009, it was supposed to be Happily Ever After. That was the triumphal conclusion, the happy ending, the wedding march.
Only if you see it that way (and only that way), you're primed to find everything that's happened since then to be a miserable failure. Because after all it hasn't been Happily Ever After. It's been a struggle practically every minute since then, and some of the struggles have been ugly, and some of them we've lost. That's the narrative the Republicans want us to see, and it's all too easy for our mainstream pundits to see it that way too. And it goes out that way to every voter who cares enough to pay mild attention to mainstream news sources, but who doesn't quite care enough to go out into the weeds to do their own information-gathering and analysis. So letting this stand as the conventional narrative -- the one most people think they're living in, no matter how incorrectly -- is dangerous. It's dangerous on an electoral level, and it's dangerous to how the majority analyzes the choices before us.
This is the middle of the book, of the film, of the story. We know what it's like in Act Two -- we all do, the stories of our culture tell us what to expect here. There are problems to be faced and resolved. We're making progress, but the bad guys are still chasing us up trees and throwing rocks at us. That doesn't mean we're not getting where we need and want to go. It doesn't mean that this Presidency isn't working. This is what happens in the middle. In fact, it's what happens toward the end of the middle, when the turn is about to come.
The president spoke directly to this when he looked directly at the audience and the camera and said "If you turn away now – if you buy into the cynicism that the change we fought for isn’t possible…well, change will not happen." The change isn't fully realized yet. It could never be fully realized in four short years.
Again when he said this: "So you see, the election four years ago wasn’t about me. It was about you. My fellow citizens – you were the change." One of the disconnects I see over and over again in the media narratives and the Romney campaign narratives centers around this notion that it was he who was the change. It was never him; it was us. And that's a core difference. While the right wing was hammering him over and over, we were pushing for change, and we've gotten some of it. Some of it is yet to come. But it's not just about him. It's about us. His message was a simple one: You be the change, and I'll facilitate it as best as I can.
We're not finished fixing. He knows it and we know it. We are building that together. Something new, something to move forward not only in the short term, but also in the longer term. Listen to the number of times he said the words "new" in that small clip. He laid out the choice pretty clearly all the way through the entire speech, summarizing with this:
America, I never said this journey would be easy, and I won’t promise that now. Yes, our path is harder – but it leads to a better place. Yes our road is longer – but we travel it together. We don’t turn back. We leave no one behind. We pull each other up. We draw strength from our victories, and we learn from our mistakes, but we keep our eyes fixed on that distant horizon, knowing that Providence is with us, and that we are surely blessed to be citizens of the greatest nation on Earth.
This sign from the Michigan delegation speaks to his message pretty clearly. My only difference with it is that I would place it in the present tense: "We are building this together." The past tense doesn't apply.
I'm not sure what Politico and others were expecting. Someone remarked to me last night that they felt as though it was a cobbled-together amalgam of past stump speeches. While there were certainly themes in the speech that we've heard before, I would hardly expect those to disappear from a nomination acceptance speech; in fact, I'd be amazed if they weren't the center of his speech. A vision is a vision, after all. It doesn't change because he's running for re-election, nor should it. The point of this speech was to tell everyone we're moving toward the goal, but we haven't arrived yet, and it is an effort that takes more than an election-year push. It takes people working together to elect a better Congress, to make their voices heard all the time, to engage in the political process and the system, and to keep pushing change...forward.
I spoke to many people who were in the room that night, and not one of them mentioned feeling flat or disappointed. To the contrary, they were fired up, ready to go, and were resolved to work every single day to overcome the barriers Republicans have built in order to re-elect the president, replace the tea party contingent in Congress, and keep the momentum going.
Disappointment, no. Resolve, yes.