CHARLOTTE — President Obama gave only the third best speech of the night here Thursday, eclipsed by both John Kerry, who got off some lines he just might have been rehearsing in his head for a few years, and
Joe Biden, whose testimonial to Obama was genuinely moving.
Also outsparkling the president at his convention: His wife Michelle, tougher-than-bullets Gabby Giffords, new kid on the block Julian Castro and new friend Bill Clinton, whose line via video Thursday — yes, the one about all the time he’s spent hoping he’d have had the brass to order that hit on bin Laden — was both effective and uncharacteristic.
Even Mitt Romney’s solid, workmanlike address at last week’s Republican National Convention in Tampa had more surprising moments than Obama’s greatest hits reel did.
But then, as a first-time nominee, Romney was as bound to tell us a story we had not yet heard as Obama was to fall short of his euphoria-producing performance in ’08 in Denver.
True, no one writes a note to self that says, “Now get out there and be dull!” But he wasn’t even trying to outdo the speech of another time and place, and shouldn’t have; in this economy, humility was required (though he’s not known for that attribute) along with a big dose of realism. And on those two fronts, Obama did deliver.
The best line of his speech was this one, which followed a passage about “what can be done by us, together, through the hard and frustrating but necessary work of self-government.”
“[W]hile I’m proud of what we’ve achieved together,’’ he told America, “I’m far more mindful of my own failings, knowing exactly what Lincoln meant when he said, ‘I have been driven to my knees many times by the overwhelming conviction that I had no place else to go.’ ” (I was also atingle at the mention of the words “climate change,” — remember climate change? — but it was definitely a line spoken to the base rather than to Jane Q. Undecided.)
The president’s party still had a more successful week here than the Republicans had in Tampa; every one of the many times Democrats bowed to our military men and women, it reinforced the silence on our troops from the GOP, who maybe didn’t want to bring up that guy whose name rhymes with the president’s.
The Democrats also had more speakers who were plain old more interesting. And the unmistakable message of all those crowd shots of a Tampa convention as diverse as your average Yankee country club was not only in stark contrast to the delegates who showed up here, but that visual mirrored the communitarian, “We’re all in this together” narrative that Democrats think trumps the “We built ours, and you can, too,” Republican mantra.
The lower bar required for Romney to exceed expectations at his convention will still be in place at the first debate, however. There, too, if the Republican nominee manages to avoid placing any $10,000 bets, or muttering that politics “ain’t the beanbag,” he’ll likely be seen as the winner.
And since that’s not a narrative that Team Obama can afford in a race this close, the president had better hope Kerry saved some of what he showed us onstage here in Charlotte for the debate prep in which he’s Romney’s stand-in.
Melinda Henneberger is a Post political writer and anchors the paper’s ‘She the People’ blog. Follow her on Twitter at @MelindaDC.