I watched it. His pseudo-soaring rhetoric is getting on my nerves. This empty vessel talk of the “promise of America” sadly may fly with the Oprah generation. I mean, how can anyone say, “Our government should work for us, not against us. It should help us, not hurt us,” with a straight face? This talk, however, certainly inspires the Democratic Party’s odd coalition of cynics, pacifists, layabouts, black racists, and meaning-starved atheists. In the end, I thought his speech a somewhat clumsy collection of meaningless cliches, partisan anger, completely vague proposals, magical thinking (such as “energy independence”), and lack of clarity about the core issue of one’s view of our times and our recent past, that is whether this country is totally messed up or basically healthy and just needs a good president.
Will this speech play well with independents? Perhaps. Nonetheless, in spite of the fog created by the Bush administration, I had the old Republican mantra asserting itself throughout: How in the hell do you plan to pay for all this bulls**t? I think a lot of independents will be thinking the same thing. The speech was conventional big-government semi-socialist spending proposals. We’ll save on Iraq only to give it away to welfare queens, connected agribusinesses, and a whole host of new government workers. This is not a formula for austerity, nor is it a particularly serious response to problems like Social Security insolvency, the weak dollar, the debt, or much else. I also think his foreign policy talk, abandoning Iraq to focus on Afghanistan makes sense superficially, but if nation-building does not work in Iraq, why Afghanistan? If al Qaeda is in 80 countries, why is putting so many resources into a manhunt for an essentially ineffective fugitive in Osama bin Laden the best use of resources? And when was this magical era when the US was respected, I wonder? Was it during the 90s when Europe cajoled us for our inaction in Bosnia? In the 60s, when we undertook the Vietnam War? His use of history is, frankly, utterly cynical and manipulative.
Finally, I think the stadium and the visuals–including Doric columns!–was a bit much. It had a fascist feeling. I know he’s no such thing, but all his talk of changing the way we treat one another en masse is a little weird. He’s the president after all, not the Pope. His rhetoric and his perception by fans does have something in common with the messianic politics of the 30s, where charismatic leaders in places like Belgium, Spain, and, yes, Italy and Germany would work outside the confines of old-fashioned 19th Century limits on authority and channel the real voice of the people. This idea that national politics should somehow transform our national character and that this “enlightened man of his time” will do so for us is frankly just creepy to me. The adulation of that enormous crowd only underscored the sense of “mandate” this guy would have if he takes the helm.