Sunday, August 31, 2008

Broder's 'Disappointed' With Obama's Speech, and For Really Stupid Reasons

If Broder had been in another solar system for the past couple of years, this column might have made sense. It's as if he missed Ted Kennedy's cancer, this year's bruising primary fight, the tremendous advantage of generic Democrats over generic Republicans in the polls, and of course McCain's attack on Obama as a lightweight 'celebrity.' Let's roll tape:
Barack Obama, on the climactic night of the conclave, gave an acceptance speech that was no match for the keynote address he delivered at the 2004 convention in Boston. Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, introducing his colleague again here, said that first one "changed politics in America."

No one is likely to argue that the speech here "changed politics in America." His jibes at John McCain and George Bush were standard-issue Democratic fare, and his recital of a long list of domestic promises could have been delivered by any Democratic nominee from Walter Mondale to John Kerry.

Well, of course. The last thing Obama could have done was to give another brilliant speech of the 2004 variety, heavy on inspiration and ideals, but light on specifics. Nothing would have reinforced McCain's point half as well. But the speech Obama gave left McCain & Co. with little to say.

And about those domestic promises: as I pointed out yesterday, America still has every problem it had in 2004 and 2000, plus a few more. And the solutions haven't really changed either. Hell, most of the things Mondale would have tried to do as President haven't yet been accomplished: we've had only one Democratic President since then, and he was hamstrung with an exceedingly partisan GOP Congress that wanted to make sure Clinton left no legacy of accomplishments.

And maybe the Obama/Dem case against McCain, Bush, and the GOP is familiar to you, old man, but the fact is that the Dems haven't bludgeoned home their case against the Republicans the way the GOP has done to the Dems over the years - nowhere close.

In fact, they have rarely made this case at all - that the fruits of the GOP of the Bush Administration haven't been just a couple of major failures (Iraq, Katrina) but otherwise a decent job of governance, but have rather been an across-the-board epic failure.

Obama made that case, and said it was time for the GOP to own the failure.

Here's why I think it matters. One of the major questions about Obama, of whom so little is known, is whether he is really serious about challenging the partisan gridlock in Washington or whether his election would simply bring on the regular wish list of liberal policies.

But the Denver speech, like many others he has given recently, subordinated any talk of fundamental systemic change to a checklist of traditional Democratic programs.

That 'checklist of traditional Democratic programs' would represent fundamental change to the people of America if they were actually enacted.

As for challenging the partisan gridlock, it's been clear for 15 years just what the source of the gridlock is. Bush didn't have much trouble getting legislation through Congress in 2001-06, and was even (unfortunately) able to pass some major bills (like FISA) in the current Congress. But during the Clinton Administration, the GOP blocked everything they could, both as minority and then majority in Congress. And in the present Congress, they played the obstruction game to the hilt on the Pelosi/Reid legislative agenda, most of which was supported by vast majorities of the American people.

Ultimately, the only way to compromise with people who aren't interested in compromising is to beat them. That's life in the big city, but Broder's totally oblivious to that reality.

Obama's disappointing speech also reflected what I had thought was the one conspicuous failure of the convention program -- the missed opportunity to introduce the country to others in the younger generation of Democrats than just Obama and his dazzling wife, Michelle.

The convention hall was full of bright, attractive men and women serving as governors or mayors or in other posts. Obama knows many of them from his campaign travels, and he gave the keynote spot to one of them, Virginia's Mark Warner.

But the prime-time spots on the convention program went to Sen. Ted Kennedy, Sen. Hillary Clinton, former president Bill Clinton and Sen. Joe Biden, the vice presidential nominee. All are comfortably familiar figures to members of my generation, and all are part of a Washington that is hardly the favorite of most voters.

Maybe the nets could cover some of the many speakers, such as Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who were powerful new voices. But the reality was that Ted Kennedy, fighting to stay alive, could not be shunted to a lesser time slot. Nor could Hillary Clinton, who ran the strongest second-place nomination campaign in Democratic history. Nor could Bill Clinton, our most recent ex-President, whose Presidency now looks like a golden age. Nor could Joe Biden, Obama's veep nominee.

No, the problem here was one of coverage. That ball's in your court, Broder.

[Obama] is not the first Democrat who has promised a new day. Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, in different ways, tried to change Washington, and both wound up frustrated. The status quo forces -- the interest groups, many in Congress and parts of the media -- all are powerful.

The only time a new president can really change Washington is when he makes it the central message of his campaign, as Ronald Reagan did in 1980.

Reagan's skill was his rhetoric; hence the label "The Great Communicator." After the 2004 Obama speech, Democrats thought they had found one of their own. It's too bad that fellow didn't make it to Denver.

I'd say he did, actually. If Broder had been paying attention, he would have heard this:
These are the policies I will pursue. And in the weeks ahead, I look forward to debating them with John McCain.

But what I will not do is suggest that the Senator takes his positions for political purposes. Because one of the things that we have to change in our politics is the idea that people cannot disagree without challenging each other's character and patriotism.

The times are too serious, the stakes are too high for this same partisan playbook. So let us agree that patriotism has no party. I love this country, and so do you, and so does John McCain. The men and women who serve in our battlefields may be Democrats and Republicans and Independents, but they have fought together and bled together and some died together under the same proud flag. They have not served a Red America or a Blue America - they have served the United States of America.
I know there are those who dismiss such beliefs as happy talk. They claim that our insistence on something larger, something firmer and more honest in our public life is just a Trojan Horse for higher taxes and the abandonment of traditional values. And that's to be expected. Because if you don't have any fresh ideas, then you use stale tactics to scare the voters. If you don't have a record to run on, then you paint your opponent as someone people should run from.

You make a big election about small things.

And you know what - it's worked before. Because it feeds into the cynicism we all have about government. When Washington doesn't work, all its promises seem empty. If your hopes have been dashed again and again, then it's best to stop hoping, and settle for what you already know.

...[But c]hange happens because the American people demand it - because they rise up and insist on new ideas and new leadership, a new politics for a new time.

America, this is one of those moments.
Obama is right: the GOP has repeatedly done its best in recent years to turn big elections on small things, distracting the American people from the real issues at hand. Now, if the GOP keeps playing that game, Obama can use that to reinforce his argument that the GOP is fundamentally unserious.

Broder, you ancient royalist tool, you and your compatriots in the media have refused to do what you could to see that elections were about issues, no matter how deep your professed desire was for that to happen. Obama has done your work for you here. And that should, with any luck, "change politics in America."

Maybe you don't see it, but it was right there in front of you.


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