The Pitch-Perfect Convention

Jeff Alworth

[In my Denver coverage, I never delved directly into political analysis, but the architecture of the convention is important enough to warrant a final convention-related bit of analysis.]

Let us recall the distant days of mid-August.  Barack Obama was on vacation in a "foreign, exotic place" (Cokie Roberts), his poll numbers were declining, McCain was running personal attack ads mocking him as a vapid celebrity, and he was about to head into what cable screechers were calling a doomed convention.  Remember the predictions?  The Clintons would hijack it.  Hillaryites would splitting the party in half.  Obama miscalculated by moving the acceptance speech to Invesco--he only underscored his celebrity, and anyway, America's tired of his cotton-candy rhetoric.  And after this convention, McCain would step on his moment by triumphantly announcing his Veep, right before the GOP met in Minneapolis.

Well.  Fast forward to Thursday night, after Obama's speech. Obama_invesco The right-wing talking heads on the various cable nets were in full attack mode--their purpose is to elect the man who pays them, not elucidate--but their target was ever so small.  Instead of enforcing the themes they had laid out for their straw-man assualt, they were reduced to rebutting the points of his policy section.  I realized that Obama had scored a total victory: when the right-wing smear machine has been forced to discuss policy, they have failed completely to dictate the terms of the debate.

The Obama campaign did it by creating an architectural model that simultaneously united the party, inoculated him against smears, and set the stage for principled, clear, policy-based attacks on McCain.  It was a thing to behold.

1.  Uniting the Party.  Although at the half-way mark the pundits were describing the convention as a dud, on the floor, unity was in the air.  The Kennedy speech set the stage. Watching him hobble to the podium and then roar with words that have been touchstones for the party for 45 years--it left no one in the room dry-eyed.  The next night, Hillary furthered the theme of unity, and her speech was as touching to Obama delegates as her own.  I was also struck by the cards handed out before her speech.  They were a subtle tribute from Obama back to Hillary--they were the only signs not in he now-iconic Obama font, and the only ones that had on the bottom.  If there was any lingering tension among the delegates, it was dispelled the next afternoon, when she asked the party to select her erstwhile foe by acclamation "with eyes firmly fixed on the future, in the spirit of unity, with the goal of victory."

2. Inoculating Obama against smears.  The Republicans have run a nasty, covert campaign against Obama.  It is typical in that it objectifies Obama as "the other" and makes him seem like a dangerous guy, atypical in using his race and inexperience against him.  One of the nastiest features of the assualt has been on Michelle, and the campaign addressed that early and often.  It is difficult to be scared of a person you see speaking, smiling, crying, and mothering, and so the campaign made sure she was in front of the camera as much as possible.  After her speech, she stayed in the Pepsi Center the whole convention, and we saw her in reaction shots each night. 

As it happened, having the acceptance speech in Invesco was a brilliant stroke.  Obama_crowdIt was derided as a grandiose move, but because of the staging, it was a little difficult to read it as anything but a pure blast of old-fashioned patriotism.  Not only did everyone have flags, but we even broke into a chant of "USA, USA" at one point.  This was the highlight moment, but every night underscored the straightforward American-ness of the Convention. 

As for Obama, he had to come out and give a speech that looked presidential.  Everyone knows that he's smart and eloquent, but he has the vague "experienced" standard to meet.  Instead of playing to the vast crowd with lofty language, he launched a tough speech that dealt directly with the GOP smears and insinuations and relied on policy planks rather than poetic prose.  Larry Galizio, standing in front of me, turned around and said, "it's not even a fair fight."  In-the-moment hyperbole for sure, but the speech was so pointed and tough that it did leave little quarter for smears.

3. Blueprint for attack.  Two weeks ago, Democrats wondered why Obama wasn't being tougher with McCain.  They needn't have.  What emerged over the course of the convention was a coherent attack on McCain that was made more effective by being first voiced by the Clintons, John Kerry, Al Gore, Ted Kennedy, and Joe Biden.  Each one emphasized the portion of the attack that fell into their area of expertise, and so when Obama came on Thursday, he brought all the pieces together.  Now the blueprint is clear--Dems have effectively linked McCain to Bush; they will not cede the white working-class to a party that has decimated it; they've rebutted his drill-as-energy-policy gimmick; they have excoriated the GOP for damaging America's international standing and condoning torture; and they've put him on the defense for his dangerous foreign policy positions. I heard the pundits grumbling afterward that it seemed a little over-produced; there were a little too many "God Bless Americas" and American flags--but these were the sour grapes of an outgamed party. 

The epilogue has been equally entertaining.  McCain botched his attempt to step on Obama's moment by selecting an untested newbie who was presiding over a town of 7,000 just two years ago.  He did manage to jump in front of Obama's spotlight, but it didn't play out like he expected.  Now he is the subject of speculation about the very judgment Obama questioned Thursday. 

I have long given up trying to figure out how all of this will play among swing voters who probably still haven't tuned into the election. But as a piece of political positioning, Obama conducted about the finest convention anyone could have expected.

  • johnnie (unverified)

    "Perfect Pitch?"

    You are ripping off Keith Olbermann now eh?

    You gotta love a "news" organization that stops their coverage to allow the cheers from the crowd to be broadcast across the nation. MSNBC's coverage was so pathetic even Bill Maher had to comment:

    "think there is a problem, though, with the media gushing over him too much. I don't think he thinks that he's all that, but the media does. I mean, the coverage after, that I was watching, from MSNBC, I mean these guys were ready to have sex with him....It's embarrassing."

    Video at:

    The pitch wasn't perfect, but the spectacle was. Forgettable speech every Democrat has made at conventions gone by. However, "humbly" accepting the nomination in the midst of 85k people, on a Whitehouse stage and fireworks will be remembered for a long time.

    Bounce is gone:

    This doesn't include Zogby's poll today indicating McCain by 2 pts.

    IMHO, spectacle perfect, not pitch perfect.

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    "Bounce is gone:

    This doesn't include Zogby's poll today indicating McCain by 2 pts."

    Citing polling done over LABOR DAY? Bzzzt. You lose, even before pretending Zogby is credible.

  • johnnie (unverified)

    Bzzt. Really?

    I guess if these polls (CNN, etc) would have shown O's bounce increasing you'd have indicated the bounce is double digit. (And I would have agreed).

    Trust me. Bounce is gone. Not even Labor Day could help O sustain a bounce....

    What's next? You going to tell me Biden is blue-collar because he rides the Amtrack every day on our dime?

    Do you know the price of the amtrack train he rides? A first class ticket from Wilmington to Washington’s Union Station on Amtrak’s Acela Express runs $111. What a phony blue collar Catholic.

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    Johnnie, the bounce is irrelevant, as is its absence. The election's not about winning the news cycle or the polls in August (which, despite "tightening," McCain has yet to do). I will grant you that McCain has run his campaign as though they are. It's about winning the most votes on November 4. Putting your fingers in your ears and declaring this convention a dud does not make it so.

  • LT (unverified)

    Sounded to me like Mike Murphy was saying on Meet the Press that higher level Republicans took Obama's speech very seriously.

    Other thing--all those volunteers who were at the Bronco Stadium speech, and all those who signed up for the famous text message. Does the McCain campaign have anything like that?

    Or, not having such a thing, is that why Lindsay Graham sounds increasingly desperate to convince us that he will keep rattling off his talking points (in such rapid speech some people might not hear all his words) until we all agree to turn all Iraq decisions over to Gen. Petraeus and vote McCain-Palin without asking any pesky questions?

  • LT (unverified)

    Presidential elections are won by states, not nationally, and not by winning the news cycle. Apparently Obama is ahead in Michigan.

    3 counties in Michigan bear watching. Mike Murphy talked about this on Meet the Press today.

    Wayne County (Detroit) likely goes D. Macomb County (epicenter of the famous Reagan Democrats) is a county to watch. Oakland County is home to Bloomfield Hills (think a more upscale Beaverton) which Murphy described as having "wine and cheese crowd independents".

    Murphy's point seemed to be that if McCain did well in Macomb County but lost double digits in Oakland County, it is over in Michigan for him.

    THAT sort of thing is what decides elections, not who has what bounce on Labor Day.

  • Gregor (unverified)

    The Reich was really struggling to minimize the damage that was doen by the perfect pitch. It was great. Regardless of the set up, it went Hillary, taking a very high road and throwing her weight for Obama, then Bill, giving his support for the sole survivor of the Democratic primary, to Obama himself, getting right up in the face of McCain. I do not know how anyone could have dreamed up a better convention then what we got.

    But it's been a couple of days and America's short term memory is working overtime to erase what bump there might have been. Prior to Gustav's declaration New Orleans and Louisiana are on his hit list, the Veep declaration seemed a desperate grasp by McCain for the Christian fascists, which does not mean all Christians, just, you know, the Dumb Dobson disciples who profess to love the Lord but pray for rain at Mile High stadium.

    At face value, it would seem that the reduction, if not outright cancellation of the convention in the Twin Cities would perhaps allow God to say He really is NOT pleased with the attitude of the Reich, but then there are mysterious ways in which this could help the Reich.

    First, Palin can now finish her Foreign Policy 101 course, which began the day after the convention. Second, there are zero expectations for any competitive convention. The question whether the RNC would compare to the the DNC is moot. And lastly, no chance of embarassment or shame on the part of the Party when Dubya and Dick show their faces displaying their smug self-deception about what wonderful things they achieved during their two terms.

    In the end, Obama will get nothing from the convention, nor will the Reich because Gustav will wash all of it away. Any reference to the last catastrophe are also washed away by how well they may actually manage the response to this disaster. No one will remember that while New Orleans drowned, Dubya strummed, picking up a guitar for the camera on his western trip. Nor will they recall how McCain had no concept of anything even being wet as he enjoyed the heat of all those candles on his birthday cake.

    In a week, it will be as if the campaigns are all begun again. How the candidates fair in the debates is not going to matter much either. As I recall, the pundits were pretty unanimous Kerry won each debate in 2004, but enough Americans were still enamoured of Dubya to leave the results near enough for theft. It would seem we may return to that outcome, too close to call but not too close to steal. Regardless of this grim outlook, I'll be working for Obama. As the old Russian saying declares, "Better to die like a man then live like a chicken."

  • Chris #12 (unverified)

    Here's a take on the convention that I did not expect to see (nor did the author, apparently):

    "Conventions, I discovered, can be building blocks of social change -- and if this year's Democratic convention ends up with any historical legacy beyond nominating Barack Obama, it will likely be remembered as one of many events that helped forge a contemporary progressive movement." David Sirota--entire piece here

    The little I saw was disappointing. Obama moving more to the center, a cheerleader for the Iraq War for VP, hypcocrisy up the wazzo in terms of trade policy, corporate influence, etc. But Sirota's piece points out possibilities that I did not see. Any of the Oregon delegation care to comment? Is Sirota on target with this?

  • Munir (unverified)

    This web site has been taken over by Republican trolls. It is not a conversation among progressives anymore. It reminds me of the AOL web site that always shows McCain winning by 65%. If the moderators are not willing to keep the trolls out, then it's best to shut it down.


  • johnnie (unverified)

    Munir - Progressives always shut down free speech. Read the book "Liberal Fascism" and watch it in play with Obama trying to gin up criminal charges against groups showing Obama associated with Aryes and Alinski.

  • Bill R. (unverified)

    I propose the Blue Oregon management move to a moderated mode of posting. This site has become a toxic waste dump for right wing pollution. How about it, Kari? You are losing the mission of this forum.

  • (Show?)

    Change ... it's coming!

  • Bill R. (unverified)

    Post-Convention bounce for Obama-

    Notable here is that 71% of Americans watched the Dem. convention. This poll includes the addition of the Palin choice with a big bounce among Indies and Women voters for Obama. My personal view is the Dem. convention was on the mark. This poll seems to bear that out. The Palin VP choice seems to not bear much fruit, at least beyond the right wing base.


    CBS Poll: Obama Leads By Eight Points A new CBS News poll shows Sen. Barack Obama's lead over Sen. John McCain has grown after the Democratic convention, which 71% of Americans say they watched. Obama and his running mate Joe Biden now lead McCain and Sarah Palin 48% to 40%.

    This is the first time the poll included the vice presidential candidates in the horserace question.

    Key findings: "Before the Democratic convention, McCain enjoyed a 12-point advantage with independent voters, but now Obama leads among this group 43% to 37%. Obama's lead among women has also grown to 14 points (50% to 36%), and the Democrat maintained the lead he had before the convention among voters who supported Senator Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries."

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    Yea, the ratings showed that more than 38 million people watched Obama's speech, and that didn't include all of watching on PBS and CSPAN. I know I watched the entire thing on CSPAN because I was tired of them talking over people about 10 minutes into the convention, and just about everyone I talked to watched on CSPAN as well.

    It was definitely the best convention I've ever seen. I thought both Bill and Hillary Clinton gave extraordinary speeches.

    The videos that were done about some of the speakers, such as Ted Kennedy and Barack and Michelle Obama, were wonderful. The ones on Barack and Michelle really gave you a better sense of them as a person - not their policy ideas, not their issues, etc. - but the person. That's important to have, as it allows you to connect with them as a person. My husband, who hates politics, watched Michelle's video with me (they're on On Demand) and he liked it.

    It was great getting a better sense of who Biden is, how he'll add to the campaign, etc. All I knew about him was what was in his Wikipedia entry and the little bits I've learned over the years.

    I also liked how everyday people were included as some of the speakers.

    All in all, I thought it was a pretty good convention.

  • baxp wcexbkg (unverified)
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