Night Three: Biden Doesn't Wow, But the Convention (Finally) Gains Momentum

| Thu Aug. 28, 2008 12:04 AM EDT

The good news for the Barack Obama camp: Joe Biden has no more big speeches to deliver between now and Election Day.

In what was the Democrats' best night of the first three, Biden capped the evening with a heartfelt speech emphasizing his middle-class roots that was marred by an irregular rhythm and a series of verbal slip-ups. He said "millions" instead of "billions." He praised Obama for working on an Illinois state health care program that provided coverage to 150 children and parents, not 150,000. Biden blasted John McCain in a predictable manner: for championing tax cuts that benefit the wealthy, for misjudgments regarding foreign policy. There were good and touching moments, such as the tribute to his mother and his empathetic recognition of the everyday challenges confronted by Americans facing hard times. And he tied the need to help working-class families to Barack Obama's appeal: "He has tapped into the oldest American belief of all: We don't have to accept a situation we cannot bear. We have the power to change it." Biden covered the bases but did not rock the house. He was no Bill Clinton. He wasn't even a John Kerry. (See Kevin's somewhat more generous take here.)

But the Obama campaign had an insurance policy. After Biden finished, Barack Obama made an unscheduled appearance and restored the energy level to the room and the convention. Working the Pepsi Center like a talk show host--has he been taking lessons from Oprah?--Obama seized control of the evening and promised a great night on Thursday, when he will accept his party's presidential nomination at Invesco Field.

The third night of the convention--Biden aside--presented a more coherent message than the previous evenings, which were dominated by the obligatory tasks of undoing the rightwing attacks on Michelle Obama and satisfying Hillary Clinton and the Hillary Hold-ons. On Thursday, it seemed as if the Obama campaign was finally able to get down to business: making the pitch.

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The Convention Picks Up Steam

| Wed Aug. 27, 2008 11:43 PM EDT

THE CONVENTION PICKS UP STEAM....Was Chuck Todd even watching the same speech as me? Yeah, Biden flubbed a couple of lines in a minor way, but jeez. Even seen through the lens of my political speech autism (hereafter PSA) I thought it was a pretty moving performance. And Marian thought he was great, which counts as my "woman in the street" opinion since she's not a political junkie like everyone else I know.

And then Brokaw followed up by saying that the convention sagged today compared to Monday and Tuesday? Did I hear that right? He must have been watching a different bunch of speeches too. Between Bill Clinton, John Kerry, and Joe Biden, I thought this was by far the best night so far.

Bill Clinton: Still the One - and a Potential Game-changer for Obama

| Wed Aug. 27, 2008 10:00 PM EDT

Despite all the talk that Bill Clinton was not happy with his speaking slot at the Democratic convention or that he still was peeved by criticisms that came his way during the primaries, there was no way that Clinton would allow himself to be outshone as the orator of his party. As Kevin notes, he delivered a helluva speech on Wednesday night.

As soon as the crowd of delegates finished giving him the loudest and longest ovation of the convention (so far), Clinton declared that he was "here, first, tonight to support Barack Obama." With his trademark blending of folksiness and policy-talk, he presented a rock-solid case for Obama. Immediately, it was obvious: forget Hillary Clinton, it is Bill Clinton who has the potential to be Obama's best advocate on the campaign trail in the coming weeks,

The speech combined an effective critique of the Bush years, a sharp attack of Republican notions John McCain has embraced, and an enthusiastic endorsement of Obama as a man "ready to be president" on Day One. And it was laced with memorable lines. His rhetoric soared:

Bill Clinton

| Wed Aug. 27, 2008 9:56 PM EDT

BILL CLINTON....Ezra has his choice for the best passage in Bill Clinton's speech here, but my favorite was this bit:

On the two great questions of this election — how to rebuild the American dream and how to restore America's leadership in the world — [John McCain] still embraces the extreme philosophy that has defined his party for more than 25 years.

And it is, to be fair to all the Americans who aren't as hard-core Democrats as we, it's a philosophy the American people never actually had a chance to see in action fully until 2001, when the Republicans finally gained control of both the White House and the Congress.

Then we saw what would happen to America if the policies they had talked about for decades actually were implemented. And look what happened.

They took us from record surpluses to an exploding debt; from over 22 million new jobs to just 5 million; from increasing working families' incomes to nearly $7,500 a year to a decline of more than $2,000 a year; from almost 8 million Americans lifted out of poverty to more than 5.5 million driven into poverty; and millions more losing their health insurance.

Now, in spite of all this evidence, their candidate is actually promising more of the same.

Think about it: more tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans that will swell the deficit, increase inequality, and weaken the economy; more Band-Aids for health care that will enrich insurance companies, impoverish families, and increase the number of uninsured; more going it alone in the world, instead of building the shared responsibilities and shared opportunities necessary to advance our security and restore our influence.

They actually want us to reward them for the last eight years by giving them four more.

Italics mine. Overall it was, of course, a great speech. The guy's a natural. And that line about people the world over being "more impressed by the power of our example than by the example of our power"? Pure Bill.

UPDATE: Jeez, I stepped out for a few minutes and missed John Kerry's speech, but everyone says it was great too. I'll try to catch it online later.

John Kerry on the Attack: Adding Anger to Hope

| Wed Aug. 27, 2008 9:30 PM EDT

Speaking at the Democratic convention on Wednesday night, Senator Evan Bayh made a qualified case against John McCain: he's a good man who has made some bad decisions. Senator John Kerry, who hit the podium later on, sharpened the attack and raised questions about McCain's integrity, age, and fondness for military confrontation.


Candidate McCain now supports the very wartime tax cuts that Senator McCain once called irresponsible. Candidate McCain criticizes Senator McCain's own climate change bill. Candidate McCain says he would now vote against the immigration bill that Senator McCain wrote. Are you kidding me, folks? Talk about being for it before you're against it.


So remember, when we choose a commander-in-chief this November, we are electing judgment and character, not years in the Senate or on this earth.

Eagerness for military confrontation:

John McCain stood on the deck of an aircraft carrier just three months after 9/11 and proclaimed, "Next up, Baghdad!," Barack Obama saw, even then, "an occupation" of "undetermined length, undetermined cost, undetermined consequences" that would, in his words, "only fan the flames of the Middle East." Well, guess what? Mission accomplished.

Kerry also took a swing at McCain for adopting "Rove tactics" and depending upon GOP Rove-bots to win election--and for perpetuating the politics of "Swift boating." For Democrats looking for a side of anger with their hope, Kerry came through.

Evan Bayh Attacks McCain With a Double-Edged Sword

| Wed Aug. 27, 2008 9:00 PM EDT

Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) lost out in the Democratic veepstakes. But on Wednesday night he was given a prime-time speaking slot and dutifully joined in the evening's assault on John McCain:

George Bush and John McCain were wrong about going to war in Iraq, are wrong about how to get us out of Iraq, and wrong to ignore the dangers in Afghanistan. The time for change has come, and Barack Obama is the change we need.

But this was an odd line of attack, coming from Bayh. He was one of the co-sponsors of the 2003 Authorization of the Use of Military Force in Iraq (AUMF). Bayh wasn't just attacking McCain. By condemning Bush and McCain for going to war in Iraq, Bayh was saying, "I was wrong." Well, sort of. He wasn't quite that explicit. And a great question for Bayh now would be, did you err, too?

And even in a speech that included a shot at McCain and Bush in almost every paragraph, Bayh did not launch as sharp an assault as he might have. He summed up the case against McCain this way:

John McCain, he's not a bad man, but he is badly mistaken about embracing the Bush agenda.

The GOP blasts Barack Obama for being risky and dangerous (and not really an American). In Bayh's view, McCain is a good guy who got some things wrong. Obviously, those two attacks don't match up. Bayh didn't define McCain in negative terms; he just disagreed with him. Can the Democrats win with that? A little more oomph might be needed.

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The Pit of My Stomach

| Wed Aug. 27, 2008 8:53 PM EDT

THE PIT OF MY STOMACH....Democrats sure are a bunch of nervous nellies, aren't they? And hey — I admit that I've gotten up a couple of times this week with a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach too. Obama's poll lead is shrinking. The convention has been sort of a fizzle so far. The media is obsessed with the hundred or so PUMA dead enders screaming in the streets of Denver. And John McCain's campaign of junior high school character assassination seems to be working pretty well.

But look. There's a reason I blog with my fingers, not with the pit of my stomach, and the fundamentals of the race really haven't changed that much. After four weeks of nonstop attacks from the McCain machine Obama is still a couple of points ahead in the polls with plenty of time left until election day. He hasn't raised as much money as he'd hoped, but he's still outraising McCain by a sizeable margin. Over the course of the campaign I think Joe Biden is going to be a surprisingly strong asset. In order to avoid a complete implosion in Congress the GOP is going to be forced to spend a ton of money it doesn't have on Senate and House races. I continue to believe that Obama will start running a much tougher and more focused campaign after Labor Day. His ground operation is going to be superlative (something that doesn't show up in the polls). And Obama is still, regardless of how McCain's troupe of gleeful attack poodles spins it, a charismatic and appealing candidate almost oozing with good sense and good judgment.

And call me a goggle-eyed optimist (no, really, go ahead), but I still think that at some point the press is going to tire of McCain's schtick. His slime is so patent, his pandering is so obvious, his lack of seriousness is so palpable, and his attacks are so transparent, that it just has to eventually get through to them. I'm well aware that history isn't on my side here, but still I hope. These folks have to have a little pride, don't they?

MoJo Video: Meet Nate Silver of at the DNC

| Wed Aug. 27, 2008 8:46 PM EDT

Nate Silver invented PECOTA, a system that predicts the future performance of baseball players that's used by teams and baseball geeks alike. Now he's turned his attention to political forecasting, and he's found he's pretty good at that, too. Silver's site, (named after the number of electors in the electoral college), relies on polls, demographics, and statistical analysis to predict who is going to win the 2008 Presidential election. I sat down with him for a quick chat yesterday at the Democratic National Convention; watch the video here. [Nate's on the right.]

How Obama Could Capture Hillary Voters: Answer the Obvious

| Wed Aug. 27, 2008 8:05 PM EDT

Below is a guest blog entry by economist and MoJo author Nomi Prins:

Hillary Clinton's speech has been duly dissected. Bill's will be, too. But the DNC question still lingering for the PUMAs is: Why didn't Obama choose Clinton as his running mate? Dems would be naïve to suggest such people just 'get over it,' Hillary's verbal push not withstanding.

Love it or hate it, it's a valid question, particularly for the women who did and do identify with her. And it's a question that Obama needs to at least acknowledge, if not address.

Why? Because in the absence of a resounding statement from Camp Obama, the bloviosphere has filled in the gap with excuses like these: She's too divisive, he couldn't deal with Bill, the Clintons are too powerful, she wouldn't have wanted it anyway.

Whatever. A strong person campaigning for the most powerful office in the world should be able to answer difficult questions head on. With swing state voters, can Obama really afford to play the Hillary card so close to the vest?

The Vicious Cycle

| Wed Aug. 27, 2008 5:28 PM EDT

THE VICIOUS CYCLE....Matt Yglesias on how we deal with the rest of the world:

Part of the perverse logic of conservative foreign policy founded on a bizarre combination of hysteria and hubris is that there's this kind of quicksand phenomenon where the worse things get, the more you need to keep flailing.

Boy howdy, ain't that the truth. Over and over, we see years of bad foreign policy meander along fitfully and then, suddenly, explode into a crisis of some kind that was probably avoidable. But by then, it's too late. Once the crisis erupts, national honor is at stake and it's too late to do the right thing because nobody (including me!) likes to back down under pressure. So the only acceptable option is to stand tough and ratchet up the tension.

The Bush administration is certainly the acknowledged master of this vicious cycle: we've seen it with North Korea, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Pakistan, and now Russia. We could have engaged earlier with North Korea; we could have avoided war with Iraq; we could have accepted Iranian overtures to talk in 2003; we could have kept up diplomatic relations with Syria; we could have accepted democratic reforms in Pakistan; and we could have treated Russia as a serious negotiating partner. This would hardly have avoided all the problems in the world, but it would have helped avoid some of them.

This isn't meant to justify bad behavior from other countries, no matter how hard conservatives try to paint it that way. It's just to point out that smart leaders, regardless of ideology, can't be naive; they need to understand the real world and conduct their foreign policy without closing their eyes to the likely consequences of their actions. But the American public, like a lot of other publics, never sees this. All they see is the eventual crisis, and when the crisis hits they want a leader who doesn't back down. One who's tough. "Toughness" may have been part of the very attitude that helped create the crisis in the first place, but few people make the connection. They just want a response.

John McCain, of course, shows every sign of wanting to take over exactly where the Bush administration leaves off: mishandling foreign affairs until crisis after crisis hits, and then insisting that national honor demands that we respond to each crisis as bellicosely as possible. And that sells. It sells for John McCain the same way that it sells for Vladimir Putin.

Is Barack Obama a guy who can sell the American public on a different vision of how to handle foreign affairs? I sure hope so. But I'm not holding my breath yet.