Analysis: Barack Obama's Acceptance Speech
Old Liberal Wine in a New Rhetorical Bottle
By Mark Whittington, published Aug 29, 2008
Barack Obama strode forth from the Temple that he had erected to himself to accept the
nomination of his party for President of the United States as well as the adulation of the
crowd gathered at Invesco Field. It was the biggest speech of his career.
The setting, a vast football stadium with the Greek style Temple erected on the field, was
one designed to make the members of the audience feel small and helpless. Their eyes
must inevitably turn toward the larger than life projected images of Barack Obama on
either wing of the Temple, a comforting image of someone who had come to feel their
pain, solve their problems, and lift their spirits.
The spirit of the occasion of the last day of the Democratic National Convention evoked
not so much Nuremburg as it did Woodstock. There difference was that there was no
mud, no (presumably) recreational drugs, a better sound system, and better music. On the
flip side, the audience had to listen to politicians like Al Gore. Few experiences in life are
Barack Obama's speech, which lasted nearly an hour with applauds, was a curious
blending of the old and the new. The Barack Obama people have been spooked just a
little by criticisms of their candidate's tendency toward grandiose rhetoric. So, instead of
the usual Barack Obama performance about "hope" and "change", the audience got
Liberal Democrat boiler plate. Most of the speech could have been delivered by John
Kerry in 2004, Al Gore in 2000, or even Bill Clinton in the 1990s.
After the preliminaries, Barack Obama laid in on the horrors of the last eight years of
Republican rule. Barack Obama's America is one of skyrocketing unemployment, people
being thrown out of their homes, and economic turmoil. There was the usual parade of
victims; the woman one illness away from disaster, the man packing up his factory
equipment to be shipped to China, the veterans sleeping in the streets. George Bush's
America is really Hell on Earth.
Next was the full throated attack on John McCain, a man Barack Obama claimed may
well care, but doesn't get it, stupid old man that he is. John McCain is, in fact, George W.
Bush, an idea that would surprise both men. But that is the theme of this year's campaign.
Bush-McCain. McCain-Bush, tusk to tusk, hand in hand.
Next came the promises. They were, unfortunately, the same old Democratic promises
that have been offered every four years and, for the most part, rejected every four years.
Tax cuts for the middle class. Tax increases for the rich. Diplomacy rather than war
abroad (though, by God, Democrats will defend this country, just you see), a huge
program to get us off Middle East Oil, health care for all, education for all. The problem
is that many, if not most people, have grown rather cynical of the ability or even the
desirability of government to deliver on such promises. They rather be left alone from
people who not so much want to stomp on you, like Big Brother in 1984, but hug you
incessantly even if you don't want to be hugged.
Finally, Barack Obama concluded with some of the Barack Obama rhetoric that had
gotten him through the primaries. There was change, hope, heroic Americans, the spirit
of America, and even a perfunctory reference to Dr. King, who have a much more
inspiring speech forty five years before.
All in all it was old liberal wine in a new rhetorical bottle. Even the fireworks display, the
confetti drop, and the families on display on the stage seemed short, forced, and
uninspiring. All in all a lead balloon kind of night to conclude a pedestrian Democratic
Source: Barack Obama's Acceptance Speech, Barack Obama, New York Times, August
Analysis: Obama talks of change, but sticks to campaign strategy: tie McCain to
By CHARLES BABINGTON
Associated Press Writer
Published August 28 2008, 11:08 PM CDT
DENVER (AP) _ Barack Obama, whose campaign theme is "change we can believe in,"
promised Thursday to "spell out exactly what that change would mean."
But instead of dwelling on specifics, he laced the crowning speech of his long campaign
with the type of rhetorical flourishes that Republicans mock and the attacks on John
McCain that Democrats cheer. The country saw a candidate confident in his existing
campaign formula: tie McCain tightly to President Bush, and remind voters why they are
unhappy with the incumbent.
Of course, no candidate can outline every initiative in a 44-minute speech — especially
one that also must inspire voters, acknowledge key friends, and toss in some
autobiography for the newly-interested. And Obama did touch on nitty-gritty subjects,
such as the capital gains tax and biofuel investments.
He said he would "find ways to safely harness nuclear power," a somewhat more
receptive phrase than he typically uses for that subject.
But most of his address echoed and amplified the theme that dominated the four-day
Democratic nominating convention here: George Bush.
"John McCain has voted with George Bush 90 percent of the time," Obama said. "I'm not
ready to take a 10 percent chance on change."
Some of his comments about McCain were unusually sharp. "I've got news for you, John
McCain," Obama said, defying anyone to challenge his patriotism. "We all put our
Obama, whose grin can light up an auditorium, was earnest and unsmiling throughout
most of the speech, particularly when skewering his opponent. "John McCain stands
alone in his stubborn refusal to end a misguided war" in Iraq, he said sternly.
Obama's aides have long complained that he gets too little credit for including detailed
proposals in his stump speeches, because listeners seem to remember only his stage
presence and lofty rhetoric. Obama, who earlier had promised a "workmanlike" speech in
Denver, seemed to acknowledge the problem, saying he would fill in the blanks.
Mostly, however, he touched on major issues quickly and lightly. It's an approach that
may intrigue and satisfy millions of viewers just starting to tune in to the campaign
seriously. The crowd at Invesco Field cheered deliriously, but Republicans almost surely
will decry the lack of specifics.
For instance, Obama said it's time "to protect Social Security for future generations." But
he didn't mention his main proposal, which is to add a new Social Security payroll tax to
incomes above $250,000 a year.
He said he would "cut taxes for 95 percent of all working families," but did not say how.
He briefly mentioned abortion, gun rights, gay rights and other hot-button issues without
delving into their sticky details. "Passions fly on immigration," Obama said, "but I don't
know anyone who benefits when a mother is separated from her infant child or an
employer undercuts American wages by hiring illegal workers."
On a few topics, he was a bit more specific. "I will eliminate capital gains taxes for the
small businesses and the start-ups that will create the high-wage, high-tech jobs of
tomorrow," he said.
Even if Obama had talked for three hours, of course, he could not have detailed enough
proposals to quiet all his critics. But that's not the strategy.
Allies such as Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano will doubtlessly defend his approach. A
few hours before the speech, she said: "What he should not do is what he will be
criticized for not doing: Give a detailed policy speech. This is not the place for that."
She said Republicans will criticize him no matter what. They will argue that his lofty
speeches lack substance and details, she said, and a detailed speech that scrimps on
soaring rhetoric will prove "he has lost his gift."
"They will try to Catch-22 his speech," Napolitano said.
Obama seemed to say, Bring it on, we're sticking to our theme: McCain equals Bush.
Party got what it wanted from Obama speech
Democratic nominee delivers the attack many thought had been lacking
By Dan Balz
updated 2:31 a.m. ET, Fri., Aug. 29, 2008
DENVER - Barack Obama's speech accepting the Democratic presidential nomination
Thursday night was what many nervous Democrats were hoping for: a forceful challenge
to John McCain and the Republicans, and a restatement of the message to change
Washington and the nation that propelled him to the nomination.
Speaking to a nation fighting two wars, struggling with a weakened economy and
growing doubtful about the future, Obama said he would make the fall campaign a choice
between a continuation of eight years of Republican policies and a new direction aimed at
ending the conflict in Iraq and easing the economic insecurities of working families.
"These challenges are not all of government's making," he added. "But the failure to
respond is a direct result of a broken politics in Washington and the failed policies of
George W. Bush. . . . I say to the American people, to Democrats and Republicans and
independents across this great land: Enough!"
Criticism of McCain was the thread woven throughout the speech. For the past month,
Obama has been under attack from his rival and the Republicans. On Thursday night, in
perhaps the most important speech of his political career, he answered back.
Confronting McCain, 'celebrity' tag
McCain has charged that Obama is not
experienced enough to protect the country. "If John McCain wants to have a debate about
who has the temperament, and judgment, to serve as the next commander in chief, that's a
debate I'm ready to have," Obama declared. McCain and the Republicans have mocked
him as an empty-suited celebrity enamored with the sound of his own voice, a haughty
elitist who cares little about average Americans. In response, Obama cited the lives of his
mother, who used food stamps at one point; his grandmother, who rose from being a
secretary to middle management; and his grandfather, who fought in Gen. George S.
"I don't know what kind of lives John McCain thinks that celebrities lead, but this has
been mine," he said. "These are my heroes. Theirs are the stories that shaped me. And it
is on their behalf that I intend to win this election and keep our promise alive as president
of the United States."
To those who have questioned his patriotism, he sounded a call for a turn away from the
partisanship that has marked politics for a decade or more -- and challenged his rivals to
make this election about big and bold issues, not small and petty arguments.
"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
Takes aim at character attacks
And then in a reprise of one of the most remembered
lines of his convention keynote address at the Democratic convention four years ago in
Boston, he said the men and women who have fought and died for this country may have
been of different parties but all died under the same flag. "They have not served a red
America or a blue America -- they have served the United States of America," he said.
"So I've got news for you, John McCain: We all put our country first."
He also challenged McCain not to stoop to questioning his motives. "What I will not do is
suggest that the senator takes his positions for political purposes," he said. "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 crowd that gathered for Obama's speech, estimated at 84,000, exceeded the audience
assembled for John F. Kennedy's acceptance speech in 1960 in Los Angeles. As tens of
thousands of flag-waving people streamed into the Denver Broncos' vast football
stadium, the scene threatened to diminish the words in Obama's text. Long to-do
But his real audience was not the crowd that waited hours to get into Invesco Field
at Mile High but rather the voters who are trying to take a measure of a still relatively
unknown politician seeking to lead the United States at a critical moment in history.
His checklist, sketched out by Democratic elected officials and delegates during the first
three days of the convention, was long. In fact, it was almost more than any single speech
could accomplish -- a combination of poetry and prose that would put to rest questions
about his candidacy, connect with undecided voters and hit the kind of emotional high
notes that long have thrilled his followers.
Some Democrats said his highest priority should be mending any last rifts with
supporters of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, his rival for the nomination, to ensure that
Democrats leave Denver united. Other party members noted that Obama needed to fill in
the blank spots in his own biography for voters who wonder who he is, where he came
from and how his unusual life ties directly to theirs. The portrait he painted of McCain
was that of a man who had served his country nobly but who is out of touch with
struggling families and is joined at the hip with President Bush on foreign and domestic
"John McCain has voted with George Bush 90 percent of the time," he said. "Senator
McCain likes to talk about judgment, but really, what does it say about your judgment
when you think George Bush has been right more than 90 percent of the time? I don't
know about you, but I'm not ready to take a 10 percent chance on change."
Promises, but few details
Another section of the speech dealt with criticism that
Obama has pitched his call for change at such a lofty level that he has left many
Americans wondering what he would actually do as president to change their lives. "Let
me spell out exactly what that change would mean if I am president," he said.
There followed a lengthy list of policy prescriptions. Tax cuts for 95 percent of working
families, a pledge to end dependence on foreign oil in 10 years through investment in
natural gas, safe nuclear power, clean coal technology, more fuel-efficient cars and $150
billion invested in alternative energy.
He promised to improve education, pay teachers more, provide every American with
affordable health care and protect Social Security's financial future. The speech did not,
however, set the clear priorities that some of his critics say his governing agenda has
lacked. Whether that will come over the next 60 days, as the campaign is fought out, is
For a politician who won the nomination in part through the power of his rhetoric, who
probably would not have been a candidate this year were it not for his electrifying
address at the convention four years ago, Obama was under considerable pressure
Thursday night to deliver a speech of special force and power. What he gave here was a
combination of old and new -- new toughness coupled with the message that got him to
"It's time for them to own their failure," he said of Republicans. "It's time for us to change
Obama's challenge between now and Election Day is to make that stick.