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June 19, 2007

On The Speeches

Barack Obama and John Edwards, it should be said, are spectacularly good at giving speeches. One thing American politics has lacked since, well, Bill Clinton, is a truly effective rhetorician. Edwards was good in 2004, but not this good. And while Dean's clipped, aggressive delivery was exciting, his oratory isn't going to land in the history books. But at this point in the race, both Edwards and Obama have proven themselves repeatedly able to speak of progressivism, in their own ways, with astonishing force and eloquence. Weaker speakers tend to fall back on easier topics, like their records, or their opponent's weaknesses. Edwards and Obama sell their ideologies. It's a real difference, and entirely a function of their oratorical talents. For those who believe that Reagan's skills as a communicator proved a president's rhetoric can significantly alter the ideological direction of the country, Edwards and Obama both offer slightly different, but nevertheless completely plausible, models for how a liberal politician could do the same.

June 19, 2007 | Permalink

Comments

"Edwards and Obama sell their ideologies."

Meh. Edwards is selling his ideology, which is why he excites me so much.

But Obama is selling something very much akin to what McCain is selling. And that, obviously, is not ideology.

Posted by: Petey | Jun 19, 2007 4:26:29 PM

If anything, Obama is selling the comfort of not really having an ideology.

Posted by: Christmas | Jun 19, 2007 4:28:52 PM

I think your take on things is good, Ezra. Boo to the two comments above me.

Posted by: Korha | Jun 19, 2007 4:36:36 PM

"For those who believe that Reagan's skills as a communicator proved a president's rhetoric can significantly alter the ideological direction of the country"

I predictably don't believe this, thinking that oil & economic shocks, the loss of a war, demographics, changing media structures etc were also factors.

But I understand the comforts of cult of personality. Worship away.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Jun 19, 2007 4:39:20 PM

Or, as Ezra wrote in his TAPPED post:

To put the contrast another way, where Obama promised to radically change our politics, Edwards promised to radically change our policies. Those were the choices offered to the conference this morning, and they were good ones.

If we were to stipulate that Clinton, Obama, and Edwards were to govern identically, (which I don't think is correct, obviously), the question becomes that of which one would actually change our politics.

To my mind, Edwards ability to sell an actual progressive ideology would shift our politics far more than Clinton or Obama could even dream of.

It's important to remember that Reagan ran on a conservative ideology that was far out of the mainstream prior to his election. And by running and winning on conservative policies, he was able to actually change our politics.

Compare and contrast to Carter and Clinton's elections, neither of which managed to change our politics in any fundamental sense.

If you want to change our politics, you have to stand proudly for an ideology that actually represents a change.

Posted by: Petey | Jun 19, 2007 4:39:38 PM

Not to worry, they'll steer back to the center after the primaries. If either of them survives the primaries, that is.

Posted by: JasonR | Jun 19, 2007 4:41:22 PM

Sorry, Ez. Clinton was great at small-group politics, one-on-one, as the empathetic guy in the room. He never gave a speech worth a lick in his life, largely because he insists on writing his own and he is that most dangerous of critters -- someone who can't write, but thinks he can.

Posted by: charles pierce | Jun 19, 2007 4:48:28 PM

Both are selling dreams at this point. Obama is more process-oriented than Edwards, which will appeal to some and not to others. Those who think Obama doesn't have an ideology, though, aren't paying attention. He's taken positions and put out plans as much as or more than most politicians do by this point in a campaign. Edwards is the outlier, with a strategy of putting out lots of (at least seemingly) specific promises early. He may eventually be seen as promising a good deal more than we have any reason to believe he can deliver. Obama is also open to that skepticism, about his own dreams.

Clinton, of course, still the clear front-runner, and she's playing a different game altogether, more cautious and pragmatic than either Obama or Edwards.

To my mind, Edwards ability to sell an actual progressive ideology would shift our politics far more than Clinton or Obama could even dream of.

Speaking of dreaming. I think Obama's the better salesman.

Posted by: Sanpete | Jun 19, 2007 4:50:49 PM

"Not to worry, they'll steer back to the center after the primaries."

You only think this because we've haven't seen a Democrat try to run for President as a proud progressive in recent memory.

The reason Edwards prompts comparisons to Reagan is because he'll be able to show all of us a new way for a Democrat to run a general election and win.

Posted by: Petey | Jun 19, 2007 4:52:05 PM

"Speaking of dreaming. I think Obama's the better salesman."

Of course you do, Sanpete. He's selling a centrist vision that's close to your heart.

I prefer Edwards because he's selling an ideology that will move mainstream American politics to the left.

Posted by: Petey | Jun 19, 2007 4:53:57 PM

"(Bill Clinton) never gave a speech worth a lick in his life"

I never thought I'd say this, but Charles Pierce is insane.

Posted by: Petey | Jun 19, 2007 4:56:49 PM

And yet, Clinton is gaining.

Why?

Posted by: Anthony Damiani | Jun 19, 2007 4:58:29 PM

How about this one Petey, Obama is the more consistent salesman. You'll have to give me that, right?

Posted by: Korha | Jun 19, 2007 4:58:58 PM

"How about this one Petey, Obama is the more consistent salesman. You'll have to give me that, right?"

No. I agree with Ezra that both Edwards and Obama are both compelling salesmen. I don't see a consistency differential between the two of them, though I could be not fully understanding what you're suggesting.

-----

And to reiterate, while I think it's very important to have a compelling sales voice acting as the singer for the band, what differentiated Reagan was not just his compelling sales voice, but also the proud ideology of what he was selling.

I can see Obama selling the country on Obama. But I don't see him selling the country on progressivism. I don't think that's even part of his mission statement.

If you want to change America's politics, you have to stand for something outside of current mainstream politics.

Posted by: Petey | Jun 19, 2007 5:06:27 PM

"And yet, Clinton is gaining. Why?"

Because she's running as the incumbent, and low information Dems see no reason to go against the incumbent.

Expect the current dynamic to remain in place until the weather gets cold.

Posted by: Petey | Jun 19, 2007 5:08:41 PM

I think Obama is really at home in front of audiences like this.

Posted by: Nicholas Beaudrot | Jun 19, 2007 5:20:18 PM

He's selling a centrist vision that's close to your heart.

No, Obama's just clearly a better salesman, and only those who prefer Edwards for other reasons are in doubt about that; no one else is. As Ezra actually said, Obama said things better. But you keep dreaming, and spinning.

Because she's running as the incumbent, and low information Dems see no reason to go against the incumbent.

You really are spinning, Petey. She has various appeals, but being an incumbent isn't one.

Posted by: Sanpete | Jun 19, 2007 5:33:26 PM

I think what Petey means by 'incumbent' here is the default choice. And for those who prefer the default Democratic choice, Hillary has a lot of appeal.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Jun 19, 2007 5:45:57 PM

If anything, Obama is selling the comfort of not really having an ideology.

Ah, that's still an ideology</althusser>

But I do wonder the extent to which American political observers have had their ears dulled by too many years of Bushspeak. Heck, they go googly over Tony Blair, and his manner of speaking has been a joke to British political observers for more than a decade.

Posted by: pseudonymous in nc | Jun 19, 2007 5:54:50 PM

No. I agree with Ezra that both Edwards and Obama are both compelling salesmen. I don't see a consistency differential between the two of them, though I could be not fully understanding what you're suggesting.

Sorry. I watched both of their speeches today at the Take Back America website. They were very good. The difference is that Obama, in broad outline, in the themes and rhetoric he sounded, could have given that speech twenty years ago, before he had even gone into politics. Edwards, on the other hand, would have given a substantially different speech less than five years ago, during his 2004 Presidential campaign.

That's what I mean by consistent.

Posted by: Korha | Jun 19, 2007 6:32:22 PM

I agree they are both good. I am hoping that this will come across in the fall.

Posted by: akaison | Jun 19, 2007 6:35:56 PM

"That's what I mean by consistent."

Well, at least I was correct in guessing that I didn't understand what you were driving at...

Posted by: Petey | Jun 19, 2007 6:49:26 PM

For those who haven't seen the two speeches, Matt Yglesias has them posted.

Having watched online rather than in person, my reaction is similar to Ezra's. As much as our politics is trivial and divisive, and needs changing, our actual policies need even more urgent attention, and for that Edwards is more convincing he will deliver.

From my comment at Beutler's blog:

We have together in Obama and Edwards the making of one great candidate (with some of Bill Richardson's Iraq ideas thrown in for contrast against Hillary and the Bush Clones). Edwards has fine ideas, and (sometimes) Obama has great oratory.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Jun 19, 2007 6:55:55 PM

Edwards has altered his message somewhat, from people v, powerful to a call for us to meet our committment to humanity. That's right: he's preaching moral values.

The sound you hear in the distance is the Rezko story, slowly charging toward a head-on collision with Obama's central message. The Trib is calling on O to answer questions, and he has three dishonest-seeming statements out there. Bad for any candidate, really bad for one who builds a speech around this:

"Our politics has never been pure, but there's a sense that in the last several years, the race for money, and influence, and power has left the hopes and concerns of most Americans in the dust. You're worried about how you'll pay for college, or health care, or save for retirement, but when you turn on the TV or open the newspaper, all you see from Washington is another scandal, or a petty argument, or the persistent stubbornness of a President who refuses to end this war in Iraq. As the rest of us have turned away from this kind of politics in cynicism and frustration, we know what's filled the void. The lobbyists and influence-peddlers with the cash and the connections – the ones who've turned government into a game only they can afford to play."

Posted by: david mizner | Jun 19, 2007 7:05:01 PM

Tony Blair has been the greatest rhetoretician since Bill Clinton - arguably even better to be honest..

Posted by: Raff | Jun 19, 2007 7:19:20 PM

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