Knowing that I will get an absolute ton of grief for saying this, I nevertheless pronounce that from a purely political standpoint, Barack Obama was as close to pitch-perfect in his speech last night as he possibly could have been.
Don’t have a cow, folks. Let me explain. This is not to say that critics would be wrong to pick apart some of Obama’s substance. It is not to say that his nod to former President Bush was anything other than more style than substance, and barely enough even of style. He should have credited Bush at least to a certain extent for the “surge,” and should have acknowledged that at least on a basic level the surge worked. This is also not to say that his discussion of the economy was anything but gauzy in substance, lacking any specificity or real thrust. And this is not to say that I agree in the slightest with his worldview or his overall assessment of what it is that constitutes U.S. interests.
But it is to say that considering the political position he is in, and considering his ideology, and considering the fact that most Americans now are looking inward and are very happy to stop thinking about wars abroad, I thought he threaded every needle he could thread and was effective in saying what a whole lot of less-than-political, less-than-ideological Americans want to hear. He said the troops are coming home. He said we must focus on our economy. He said that Iraqis and Afghanis must learn to fend for themselves — a stance with which probably 80+ percent of Americans believe. He credited our military personnel again and again and sounded heartfelt in doing so. He sounded proud of America and of its efforts. He sounded a bit more generous to his predecessor than in substance he actually was. He never once sounded peevish. He didn’t cast blame. He also didn’t sound anywhere near as arrogant, self-referential, self-reverential, and self-absorbed as he usually does. He didn’t sound flat. His intonation was good. And his language had just the right mix of understated eloquence with conversational approachability.
What I am saying is that his poll ratings will indeed get a little bump from this speech, and that the bump will not evaporate in just a few days but, at worst (or at best from conservative standpoints) might just slowly dissipate over a couple of weeks — if it dissipates at all. More likely is a bump of a few points — not a huge gain, but four points or so — that lasts steadily through September.
I don’t think he deserves such a bump. I think Obama is tremendously flawed and his vision for the United States is alien to mine and to that of most of American history. But I think he went as far as he could go tonight toward re-engaging the political middle without saying anything that could get him in trouble with the left. I also think that in what he did choose to say, he was sincere — and certainly sounded as if he were.
In those senses, I think his speech was a political success, although I wish it had been otherwise. I do not feel safe with Obama as our commander in chief. But I think he made more people feel safe, or at least accepting of him as C-in-C, than there were before he spoke last night. He didn’t say what a conservative would have said. But he said the best he could get away with saying while being credible, and he sounded mostly good in doing so.