Gore’s Speech: A Reminder of What’s Missing

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There’s been some talk among pundits and progressives that the Obama campaign could use a touch more populism–especially to reach those working-class voters (read: white working-class voters). So maybe the Democratic convention could have used someone talking like this:

My focus is on working families–people trying to make house payments and car payments, working overtime to save for college and do right by their kids. Whether you’re in a suburb, or an inner-city. Whether you raise crops or drive hogs and cattle on a farm, drive a big rig on the Interstate, or drive e-commerce on the Internet… Whether you’re starting out to raise your own family, or getting ready to retire after a lifetime of hard work

So often, powerful forces and powerful interests stand in your way, and the odds seemed stacked against you–even as you do what’s right for you and your family.
How and what we do for all of you – the people who pay the taxes, bear the burdens, and live the American dream–that is the standard by which we should be judged.

That’s a passage from Al Gore’s feisty I-will-fight-for-you-against-powerful-interests acceptance speech at the 2000 convention. This time around, on the final night of the convention, Gore appeared at Invesco Field an hour before Barack Obama was scheduled to come out, and he spoke–no surprise–mostly about climate change. He was eloquent on the subject, as he usually is. He did take a whack at the oil and coal industries and “the forces of the status quo.” But he sure did not tailor his remarks to the sort of voters he focused on in his 2000 speech.

Of course, it’s not Gore’s job to populist-ize the Obama campaign. That seems to be Joe Biden’s mission. But Gore’s speech on Thursday night–given the obvious comparison to his 2000 speech–was a reminder that something’s been missing.

THIS JUST IN: Shortly after Gore spoke, the convention presented several working- or middle-class voters who explained why they were supporting Obama. One of them, Smith Barney, who lost his job in a Marian, Indiana, factory, had what was (so far) the best populist line of the night: “We need a president who puts Barney Smith before SmithBarney.”

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