Obama, Sharpton Steal the Show
By Terry M. Neal
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Thursday, July 29, 2004; 1:28 PM
One of the things that stood out during John Edwards’s speech last night was how anti-climactic it felt. But perhaps people needed a more soothing presence after Al Sharpton’s extended diatribe, in which he threw out his notes and ad-libbed his way through a time-slot busting diatribe against the Bush administration.
Truth be told, Sharpton--like him or loathe him--moved the crowd with his pointed one-liners. And he is, hands down, one of the best speakers the party has. Too bad there isn’t a position on the ballot in November for Orator-in-Chief.
I watched the Edwards speech last night from the CNN skybox overlooking the FleetCenter floor as I prepared for my side gig offering political analysis on NewsNight with Aaron Brown.
Sure, the sea of red Edwards signs was impressive, but the North Carolina senator’s speech was primarily a rehash of the address he’s been giving for the past year, with a few laudatory words about Kerry thrown in and some beefed-up rhetoric about security.
Backstage, I ran into columnist Joe Klein, who is no longer Anonymous, and asked him what he thought. "I never liked the speech in the first place," said Klein, who now writes a column for Time. “There aren’t two Americas! There are a lot of Americas.”
In all fairness, people do tend to respond to Edwards’s charisma, and his speech hit, as it usually does, the right notes. One thing has become apparent in this convention: The party’s legion of consultants and pollsters have told the ticket and the party hierarchy that perhaps it is better not to directly accuse President Bush of misleading the country. Might turn off some swing voters.
The Kerry camp and the DNC have reportedly tried to discourage such direct assertions in the speeches. But they’ve had limited success. In Edwards’s speech last night, he talked about how Bush has mismanaged the war but didn’t raise direct questions about Bush’s honesty. So instead, he just talked about returning “credibility” to the White House.
This is the same sort of game that Bush played in 2000, when he almost never explicitly criticized Bill Clinton by name for his moral lapses. Instead, he built an entire campaign on -- wink, wink -- returning honor and dignity to the White House. I covered the Bush campaign for The Post in 2000, and I distinctly recall Bush trying to make the case, with a straight face, that he wasn’t really criticizing Clinton at all with that “honor and dignity” line.
In any case, the one guy people around here are still buzzing about is U.S. Senate candidate Barack Obama from Illinois, whose speech has been the best received by most of the delegates and activists I’ve talked to here.
“Let me tell you, my 85-year-old mother, who lives in Bradenton, Fla., called me up after [Obama’s speech] and said 'this guy is presidential material,'" gushed Elizabeth Spahn, a professor at the New England School of Law.
“Everybody has been gushing about Obama being a truly presidential-quality candidate,” said Singleton McAllister, another lawyer and party activist from the District.
Not that this is a scientific measure of anything, but readers of the Live Online discussions I’ve been doing each night at 10 p.m., flooded me with raves about Obama as he finished speaking Tuesday night. I received only a couple messages about Edwards's speech.
In any case, the main event is tonight. It’s why we’re all here. So join me this evening on my chat so we can talk about Kerry and tonight’s events.
Back in a bit with more.
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