You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

Dog Bites Man, Obama Gives (mostly) Great Speech

Although Barack Obama's victory speech was well-crafted and magnanimous, I spent the first half of it wondering why his delivery seemed flatter and more dour than usual. Was he tried after all the long weeks of campaigning? Was he preoccupied with Hillary Clinton's less-than-graceful address in New York? Was he thinking about what to order from room service back at the hotel?

But then, I thought, Obama seemed to find his voice--right around the section when he declared that Americans "don't deserve is another election that's governed by fear, and innuendo, and division." A few minutes later, he finished with a flourish that I found positively stirring:

...if we are willing to work for it, and fight for it, and believe in it, then I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on Earth. This was the moment–this was the time–when we came together to remake this great nation so that it may always reflect our very best selves, and our highest ideals.   

Admittedly, I'm partial since I happen to agree with Obama on most of the issues and, as a result, hope he is right. National Review's Jonah Goldberg, by contrast, found this last passage "gassy"--although he was othewise rather generous about Obama's performance.

Onto more substantive matters--and my one modestly discordant thought--I did take note of this passage: 

John McCain has spent a lot of time talking about trips to Iraq in the last few weeks, but maybe if he spent some time taking trips to the cities and towns that have been hardest hit by this economy--cities in Michigan, and Ohio, and right here in Minnesota--he'd understand the kind of change that people are looking for. 

On Monday, at a rally in Michigan, Obama made a similar argument--linking spending on the war to the lack of spending on proirities at home.

I assume this represents a chance to hit back at McCain, who has been pounding national security issues for the last two weeks or so. And, in many respects, I agree with the basic argument Obama is making here.

The sorts of problems Obama described in his speech--and the sorts of people Obama proposed to help--just don't figure as prominently into the themes of McCain's campaign. It's one of many signs that McCain, although heavily engaged on national security issues, simply isn't that interested in domestic policy. No less important, the trade-offs between domestic and foreign policy are real, at least when it comes to resources. Money spent on a war is, inevitably, money not spent on better schools, stronger infrastructure, or more accessible health care--just as Obama says.

And always make me nervous when politicians suggest foreign policy is a distraction from domestic problems, because it appeals to the strong isolationist streak in American politics. In the long run, at least, I worry more that our elected officials--and our country as a whole--will err on the side of looking inward, rather than outward.

Just to be clear, I don't think Obama himself is prone to this problem. He has plenty of substantive things to say about foreign policy. It's as much a part of his campaign as his domestic platform. But I'm not still not thrilled to hear him making these sorts of statements, even if--as I suspect--they are effective politically.

--Jonathan Cohn