Everybody's a Critic: Plenty of Advice for Obama on What to Say Tonight

By David S. Broder
Thursday, August 28, 2008

DENVER, Aug. 27 It is probably just as well that Barack Obama put the finishing touches on Thursday night's acceptance speech before he arrived in this convention city.

Awaiting him are at least 15,000 would-be authors and probably twice as many editors, each with wonderful ideas about what Obama should say to the watching nation and world, and how he should say it.

In four days of interviewing here, I have yet to encounter the first Democrat who said anything like: "Why are you asking me about The Speech? This guy already has given four of the best speeches anyone can remember. He doesn't need my help. I just want to hear what he comes up with this time."

No one has said that, because "creative writing" was apparently high on the list of criteria for credentials to be a delegate to this convention. The floor of the Pepsi Center is filled with would-be Ted Sorensens and Bob Shrums.

In 15 minutes at the gate of the Pepsi Center on Wednesday afternoon, I asked six arriving delegates what is important that Obama say Thursday night. I got six answers.

"He really needs to address the security issue," said David Selleck of Lakewood, Colo. "That's McCain's strength."

"He needs to talk about the future and what's really at stake, not just in November but long term," said Sofia Mirwaldt of Fort Wayne, Ind. "Especially, how we're going to get jobs back in this country."

James Gray of New Orleans said, "I expect to hear how he's going to address the breakdown in Washington -- the things that have kept us from getting our levees repaired. And he has to talk about the way the Bush administration has squandered the United States' reputation as the great hope of the world."

"He only has to be himself," said Jennifer Lienhart of Hawaii, Obama's birthplace. "He can unite the country -- not just the party -- because he represents the diversity and unity that we have there."

"The No. 1 thing," said Chris Donovan of Meriden, Conn., "is how we're going to bring the country back. So much has happened to people in the last few years, and people need to have some hope of a comeback."

Lori Glasser of Sunrise, Fla., wearing a "Hillary" T-shirt and a button reaffirming her allegiance to the senator from New York, said, "He has to reach out to the Clinton delegates, and embrace them. He has to do it himself, for the sake of the millions who supported her and who can't be here. I expect him to talk about the economy and Iraq, but first, he better talk to us."

The diversity of views from the grass-roots delegates is echoed in the comments of party leaders, some of whom may have had the opportunity to lobby Obama on his speech.

Gov. Bill Ritter Jr. of Colorado, host of the convention, said: "He has to say again, as he did when he first announced, that 'this election is not about me; it's really about you and what kind of future you and your family will have.' It's important he speak to independents. They are the largest 'party' now in Colorado."

Among the many pundits who have published their advice, some say they hope for a high-flown and memorable piece of rhetoric that they say would put John McCain to shame. Others insist that such a speech would further alienate an already cynical public, and urge Obama to "put the flesh on the bones" by providing programmatic details to an audience eager for enlightenment.

Rahm Emanuel, the Democratic congressman from Chicago who knows Obama well, has a different view. "I don't think Obama has to tell people a lot more about himself and his plans," he said in an interview. "He just has to show them he knows them -- and understands the challenges in their lives."

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