Obama’s day

The big speech had me a little underwhelmed. It was kind of a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation for Barack Obama: if he kept the speech all airy and dreamy and inspirational like many of his previous speeches, he’d be criticized for repeating the same empty platitudes that enrapture Democratic audiences, but- you know- where’s the beef? And when he does what he does last night, which is to offer a SOTU-like laundry list speech, the rap is- hey, where’s the inspirational Obama of the new politics? One thing that’s clear- to me, at least- is that that promise of a different kind of politics that won Obama the Dem primary is gone. That speech was virtually a straight up old-line liberal series of promises and program proposals. Much more Ted Kennedy than Bill Clinton- which I consider a step backwards. Obama was pitching them as new ideas, but there was very little new in there.

One new thing that I liked- new for Dems- was his support for nukes and “tapping” natural gas. I’m not getting his claim- more like a smear, I think- that Republicans think drilling for oil alone is a fix to the energy issue. Is that the position of any Republican? I think the “all of the above” pov is what they’re calling for. It took some time and pressure (which also makes oil) to get Obama and Pelosi to finally come around to the Paris Hilton position, which is where many Republicans, including John McCain, already are.

And Obama’s call that we’ll be free from dependence on Middle East oil in ten years seems a bit gimmicky to me. As the Dems frequently point out themselves, there’s just one global oil market. If the US stops buying oil from there, the Euros, Chinese, and Japanese will be buying more. That won’t help us because the people in the ME that we hate will still be getting all those petrodollars (or petroeuros), and any stresses on that supply will just cause those buyers to buy more from our suppliers- there’s no protection from price shocks there. You only reduce our dependence on ME oil by reducing our dependence on oil full-stop. That ain’t going to happen in ten years. But as I said, I liked the support for nukes and gas.

One other thing I liked was his promise to cut federal programs that don’t work- the 20th century bureaucracy killing- but I don’t have much expectation that that would ever come to anything. And what the average Dem thinks doesn’t work and what I think doesn’t work are going to be very different. Obama also promised more early childhood education, for instance, which I think is just a cover for government day care. I’d get rid of kindergarten if I were the king.

The other main thing Obama (and the Dems in general) have going for them is health care. While the current system isn’t acceptable, I’m not sure the command and control euro-style solution is the answer. Prices get higher when the customer isn’t the one who’s paying- and this applies whether it’s the government paying or an insurance company. But I don’t have an easy answer.

I had thought that the big stadium venue was going to work against Obama, like in Berlin, but I think it ended up undermining slightly the pedestrian nature of the speech. I suspect that the decision to ratchet down the rhetoric came after the decision to go to Mile High. So it’ll be a wash. But what was the deal with that music that opened and closed the speech? Terrible choice. I would have preferred Fleetwood Mac.

Finally, it is historic that a black man is now the presidential nominee of a major US party. Obama barely referenced that. Compare to Hillary Clinton who never stops talking about being a woman. Interesting difference there. But Obama’s already got nearly all of the black vote, and just about all of the white voters who’ll vote for him on the basis of him being black- there are no more votes to be mined there. This speech was aimed at Reagan Democrats- a big chunk of the Hillaryites- as was the selection of Joe Biden for VP. I think the speech will be somewhat effective on that score. Say, a 5 or 6 point bounce.

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