Saturday, February 3, 2007

Speeches Rated

Bummer, missed a day, due to Washington Hilton's wireless access being N.G. from our hotel room. Without further ado, here are my ratings of the speeches at the DNC Winter Meeting. All opinions are those of the blogger and are given in the order in which the candidates spoke.

Christopher Dodd
Theme music: "Get Ready"
Repeated theme: "Americans are tired and fed up"
Content: B
Delivery: B
Viability/Relevance: C
VP potential: D-

Dodd was the first among most to thank Dean for his 50-state policy, which many of us feel gained us the Congress. He was also the first among many to mention the culture of fear that the Bush administration has perpetrated: "We're not going to take fear for an answer any more in America." He vowed to overturn the torture bill and suggested that debating a nonbinding resolution on Iraq was "meaningless," and that we needed "a real bill, with teeth." This was an old-fashioned speech from a guy who has served his time in the Senate creating good and solid legislation. Why he wants to be President is beyond me.

Barack Obama
Theme music: none
Repeated theme: "We don't have time to be cynical"
Content: D- (missed the point)
Delivery: A-
Viability/Relevance: C
VP potential: D

Certainly the biggest disappointment of the weekend, Obama's speech compared the scene at the DNC to a reality show like "American Idol" or "Survivor," a throwaway line that was repeated in the media too often for comfort. His delivery was slow, measured, and musical, but he talked about--well, nothing. There were next to no applause lines; this was more of a lecture. His point was that all the candidates would have good ideas, that we could look forward to a "vigorous, robust debate," and that the focus should not be on gaffes or attack ads. He also reiterated his theme of hope and optimism, which is nice in theory but difficult to legislate. People gave him a rock-star reception before he spoke but looked puzzled afterward. Overheard: "His 15 minutes are OVER."

Wesley Clark
Theme song: "I Won't Back Down"
Repeated theme: "I grow angry. . ."; "Where's the (equality/justice/balance/fair play)"; "I believe in an America that. . ."
Content: B+
Delivery: C
Viability/Relevance: C
VP potential: B

Sorry, he just doesn't look like a general to me. Nevertheless, he started with a bang, saying that "I wake up and look at the casualty lists" and "for me, it's personal." He went on to assure us that "I speak to you as the only person who's done the things we need to do to succeed." He then had a wonderful series of "where's the beef" structures about equality (example: women who make 77 cents to men's dollar), justice (Abu Graib), balance (poverty), fair play (CEO salaries), and shared sacrifice (tax cuts in wartime). It was a good and personal speech, and we did consider his connections to the Clintons and his potential as VP. But he's never held elective office!

John Edwards
Theme music: "This Is Our Country"
Repeated theme: "It doesn't have to be this way"; "Silence is betrayal"; "Will you stand up?"
Content: A
Delivery: A+
Viability/relevance: C+
VP potential: B-

OMG. This was far and away the best speech of the session. He began with a tribute to Molly Ivins. He continued with "Why are we here?" and answered with a series of vignettes, short scenarios involving human suffering surrounding hunger, jobs, college costs, soldiering, refugees, and sudden illness, each followed by the line, "It doesn't have to be this way." He told us "people need to stand up" and asked, "Will you stand up?" whereupon, of course, everyone did. He mentioned the doublespeak involved in referring to "access to health care" and called for universal health care. He used MLK's construction to say "It is a betrayal for us not to speak up against escalation of this war." He said, "I've got news for you, Mr. President. You're not the decider--the American people are the decider." He made me cry. And he got a huge, huge response. Sadly, we suspect he can't raise the bucks to last through the primaries. He certainly has a message that resonates, and he was the only candidate to require anything of the voters.

Dennis Kucinich
Theme music: "America the Beautiful
Repeated theme: "My wife, Elizabeth. . ."
Content: D-
Delivery: D+
Viability/relevance: D-
VP potential: F

Just a ridiculous speech, although I must say his new wife is quite beautiful. He started with "Can you hear me in the back? Cuz I can hear you," which again was used by the media to ill effect. People talked and moved about throughout the speech. He talked about single payer health care, universal Pre-K, a new WPA program, and a cabinet-level Department of Peace and Nonviolence. After reminding us that he has consistently voted against funding the war, he said, "If we give him the money to continue the war, we the Democrats will have bought the war." He then rambled on about his and Elizabeth's visit to Southern Lebanon and their shock at the damage, trying, I think, to make the point that even though Israel bombed them, the Lebanese still love America(?) He also wants to establish a 9/10 forum to get us back to who we were before 9/11. And that toupee has a life of its own.

Hillary Clinton
Theme song: "You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet"
Repeated theme: none
Content: A-
Delivery: C+
Viability/relevance: A
VP potential: F

With a field of candidates this big, you wouldn't expect to see an anointing, but it was hard not to recognize that HRC stood head-and-shoulders above the crowd. Her worker bees were outstanding, handing out over 300 signs to other people's 50 or so (they were supposed to have no more than 100, I believe). Her money potential seems infinite; she may be able to retire the national debt by the time 22 months have elapsed. Although the order of speeches was supposedly chosen by lottery, HRC was last on the better-attended day 1--obviously the best spot. And afterward, it was she that people most wanted to see, so that they had to move her to a bigger room than the other candidates got. Anyway, back to the speech. She used O's hated "I'm in, and I'm in to win" line, and mentioned again that she's "here to start a conversation." Her delivery was better than I've seen, but it was still clunky in spots. I think she needs a speechwriter better able to write for her cadences. She spoke about some things earlier speakers did not--China debt! Katrina! NCLB! She called for "an economic strategy that will rebuild the middle class." As she began to speak about Iraq, people from Code Pink started to shout her down. She continued, unfazed, "If we the Congress don't end this war, in January 2009, I will." But her main message was a pragmatic one: "I know a thing or two about winning campaigns." This was a strong speech that emphasized her personal strengths: an unquestionable understanding of process and policy, and her ability to beat the pants off any opposition.

Joe Biden
Theme song: "Centerfield"
Repeated theme: "I understand"
Content: C+
Delivery: C+
Viability/relevance: C
VP potential: C-

Joe started this way: "How was your week?" People loved it. His week, of course, was pretty horrible, thanks to his predilection for putting his foot in his mouth. So he opened with an apology, again. He continued by revealing that he has a plan to stop the war, involving separating the combatants to give the factions breathing room. In a conversational tone, he remarked that America needs a President with broad, deep experience in world affairs to deal with the "simmering spots in the world." He launched into a list of things that Americans "know we need" but that they "doubt Washington understands," but he assured us that "I understand." He got applause for his references to the historical role of the Democratic party and his desire to make the country "the light of the world again." Too bad so many people feel that he's been in the Senate so long that he's part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Bill Richardson
Theme song: "Lean on Me"
Repeated theme: "The disease is arrogance"
Content: A
Delivery: A
Viability/relevance: A
VP potential: A

I don't know the guy at all, but I plan to learn more. His introduction was by a journalist's wife whose husband he had saved from a Sudanese jail. His first words were about the 7-minute limit on speeches (which everyone ignored, BTW): Re how to fix things in America, "I don't need 7 minutes, I can do it in 4 words: Elect a Democratic President. " He then said of his rivals, "You'd be better than any of [this administration]--as my Vice President." He was funny and charming and very, very presidential. Like Obama, he called on the Dems not to tear each other down. Unlike Obama, that wasn't all he said. He talked about his record in NM: from 48th to 27th in teacher pay, insuring every child under 5, conforming to the Kyoto Treaty. He said, "Our fight for equality [in NM] extends to sexual orientation," which got a standing ovation. He suggested that we need a candidate who can win in every region. He stated that the mission in Iraq was complete and it was time for "our troops to leave with honor." And he finished by saying "Stay loose--we've got a year to go." We're going to recommend him to Josh, who wants to spend the next year in New Hampshire on a campaign. A real grownup, a terrific speaker, and he just brokered a cease-fire in Darfur. What more could you want?

Mike Gravel
Theme song: "Power to the People"
Repeated theme: none
Content: D-
Delivery: F
Viability/relevance: F
VP potential: F

Okay, just as things are looking up, along comes Mikey. He showed his relevance right away by saying, "the Viet--I mean Iraq War." He laughed about his age, saying, "Washington needs adult supervision." He gave a strange lecture on the founding fathers and then said that the fear of opposing a wartime president meant that "political calculations trumped morality," and thus "anyone who voted for the war is not qualified to hold the position of president." He gave a lecture on checks and balances, a lecture on the military-industrial complex, and told us that America was number one in many things, including number of people in prison. Then he launched into what seemed to be the raison d'etre for his speech: a national initiative to allow people to amend laws, empowering "people as lawmakers." This was by far the longest speech in a parade of long speeches, and it sent people into the lobby at an alarming rate. Just embarrassing, not to mention a real downer. The anti-Obama.

Tom Vilsack
Theme song: "I'll Be There"
Repeated theme: "The courage to create change," "We can have an America. . ."
Content: C
Delivery: C
Viability/relevance: C
VP potential: C

From the heartland comes this middle-of-the-road speaker with his middling speech and startling story--"born an outsider," adopted into a family with a mom who was an alcoholic and prescription-drug abuser but who had "the courage to create change." He told a story about meeting a 5-year-old in Seattle who asked him, "Would 100 more troops make a difference? Would 1,000 more make a difference" and who concluded, "I'm frightened every day." None of us who have ever met a 5-year-old believed this story. He discussed the difference between real change and not-real change--giving more money to NCLB is not real, ending it is real. He called the national debt the "birth tax." He remarked that his state, Iowa, was one of only two to reduce the number of uninsured. He said, "Those who voted to support the war. . . can surely vote to end the war," a clear slap at HRC, Dodd, and Biden, and SO anti-Obama.

That does it for the speeches, and I'm tired. Pictures and more commentary to come in the days to follow.

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