Friday, January 4, 2008

A few observations on the Iowa caucus speeches last night

I'll leave the parsing of the percentages and all that to abler analysts. What interests me more than the results are the speeches that followed. I didn't stay up to watch all the speeches, I was mostly interested in Obama's and Huckabee's as the winners. But while waiting for those two I did catch Edwards' and Clinton's.

First was Clinton. She was predictably stilted and only barely stifled her rage at Obama and Edwards. It was a stale, safe, innocuous, boring speech. The highlight was seeing Madeline Albright over her right shoulder.

Next was Edwards. I suppose it's no surprise that Edwards did well in Iowa, what with his populist pro-union, anti-free trade, universal health care shtick. Not surprisingly, his speech hit the health care theme hard, complete with anecdotes of individual Americans who get sick and can't pay for treatment delivered in a charming, folksy drawl. It's his bread and butter. It's his theme, and he plays it well. He played it well as a trial lawyer and he still does well. The only problem is that he's a bit of a Johnny-one-note. My other stylistic criticism of Edwards he does the Bill Clinton thumb point. The idea is that pointing is rude and a subtle thumb emphasis is more friendly. But when Clinton was in office, the thumb point was satirized to death by late night comics ("Ah feel your pain"). Edwards doing it now is almost self-caricature.

Then came Huckabee. It was about what you would expect. A lot of folksy grandstanding, a lot of talk about our American (i.e. evangelical Christian) values, and a lot of drawling. He talked about how it's a "new day" in American politics---an throwback, I think, to Reagan's "morning in America." The funniest part of Huckabee's speech was the way a be-flanneled Chuck Norris hung, fawning, on his every word like, grinning giddily like a twelve-year-old girl at a Hannah Montana concert. And for some inexplicable reason, the unshaven Texas Ranger shifted from Huckabee's left shoulder to his right shoulder midway through the speech.

Obama's was the best speech of the night. I like to compare it with Edwards. Edwards' message really plays only to working class Democrats. That's not a bad thing, particularly in a Democratic primary in Iowa, but it is limiting. Obama's message has a more universal appeal. He eschewed the Clintonian anecdotes of individuals and went for a more abstract, but more unifying message hitting hard on hope, unity, and possibility. Such abstractions can be hard to visualize and can often make for a forgettable speech, But Obama countered that with his personal stage presence. I appreciate that Obama does the real finger point rather than the Clintonian thumb point. I don't think it's rude, I think it's forceful. He was by far the most energetic, the most passionate. This highlighted his youth and energy, which in turn complements his message of change over Clinton's of experience.

Speaking of Democratic youth, energy, and idealism, I couldn't help but see shades of Kennedy. Not only is Obama a young man who appeals to the unifying transcendence of American values, but he also has a young, attractive, graceful wife, and two cute kids to boot. And if you look at Michelle Obama, it's not hard to see a shadow of Jacki Kennedy, especially in her conservative, chin length, flipped coif---specially last night, wearing pearls and a conservative dress that would not have been too out of place in the 1960s. All she needed was a pill box hat, and a pair of gloves. It was to the point that I almost wonder if it's on purpose.

But after two Bushes and a Clinton, I guess we could use another Camelot after all.

Anyone see Romney's?


apyknowzitall said...

Thanks so much for posting the speeches. It was irritating to hear how great Obamas was but no one thought to replay it.

Anonymous said...

There is no denying that Obama’s speech was brilliantly delivered and moving, and the Kennedyesque trimmings you point out are certainly no accident. It is his best strength as it was four years ago at the Kerry convention. He does less well in intimate settings and needs to find good people to help him with interviews and debates.

In spite of her unexplainable vote on the war, the difference in policy between Hillary and Obama is negligible. The thought being trotted out by TV pundits that electing a mixed-race president with a third world name is going to so charm the Islamic world that it will stop producing terrorists is laughable.

Edwards has taken the pro-working class positions usually offered by Jesse Jackson, and if sincere, is the real alternative to Bush. Economic justice can’t fly any with a middle class that disavows its union roots and now simultaneously exploits cheap Mexican labor while complaining about those poor folk jumping the border.

As to Obama’s theme of moving beyond our differences this is nonsense in a nation where Evangelicals are determined to undo the separation of Church and state, turn the nation away from an expanding view of human rights, funnel tax money away from government programs and schools and into their proselytizing “charities,” and undermine support for scientific inquiry and education. If you believe Robertson, Dobson, Perkins, Colson, Reed, and the other snake oil salesmen of the Christian Right are going to walk hand in hand with people who embrace the Enlightenment and American values, dream on. A President Obama will be forced to face what Edwards acknowledges: you either have to fight for your constituents and values or sell them out.

To my view, there is no reason to hold any of these candidates in special contempt. They are all imperfect, and at the same time, all superior to any Republican.

JKC said...

I don't think Clinton's vote on Iraq is inexplicable. She simply allowed herself to be scared by the administration's threat that if they were right about WMD, those who voted against the war would be slaughtered in the next election. It really was a politically brilliant (albeit devious and ethically questionable at best) most on the Republicans part. Because the Democrats have been badgered and badgered about being "soft on terror," they get all self-conscious and worried and therefore capitulate more easily to things like the Patriot Act and the Military Commissions Act.

Obama and the others who voted against it called the administration's bluff. It's absolutely true, as you point out, that the stated policies of Clinton and Obama are essentially identical. The difference, for me, is that I don't trust Clinton to stick to those policies if it becomes politically expedient to change them.