They say that great things come in threes. So after Michelle Obama's eloquent, heartfelt speech and Bill Clinton's blistering, rock-star-like missive, Democrats expected a knockout performance by President Obama Thursday night. But what they got was the same old same old from a man who sure as heck knows how to deliver sweeping oratory, but without the requisite emotion and passion, especially at this critical juncture in the campaign, that makes it truly meaningful. If I were an independent voter watching his speech I'd have headed into the kitchen for a snack a minute into his delivery.
What Democrats saw from Clinton the night before was the kind of speech pundits on both sides of the aisle talk about for years. A brilliant, witty, awe-inspiring impassioned plea replete with vision and promise. Not because he's a better speaker but because he inhales politics, politicians and the process like I inhale air. His heart, not just his mind, is fully in it. Contrary to Obama, whose heart seems to already be on that plane back to Chicago.
Don't worry about Democrats. I suspect Obama's speech was good enough to keep them solidly in the family. But it's not the base, or the "enthusiasm gap," as former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell suggested Friday on MSNBC's Morning Joe, that the speech was written for. It was supposed to directly and forcefully appeal to Independents, for it's this highly coveted group who Obama should be panicking about, and a group which were likely disappointed with his message. What they didn't get from him was any sort of detailed plan or specifics on job growth and economic recovery that might've given them reason to believe four more years with him at the controls is the answer to America's problems. Instead they got the standard Obama routine, which at this point in the game seems uninspired, stilted and repetitive. At this crucial stage, do we really need to hear the same "Fair shot... fair share...same set of rules" line? Unlike Clinton, who masterfully ad-libbed his way through almost half of his 48-minute speech, Obama just seemed terribly scripted, like he's delivering a well-tuned performance. Unfortunately, now is not the time for the president to appear as if he's merely phoning it in.
Obama needed to hit it out of the park, as Clinton did, and bring home the winning run. Instead, he hit a ground-rule double, leaving the winning run on third. Whether the runner ever makes it to home plate remains to be seen.