On the whole, Barack Obama’s broad, aggressive and studiedly unglamorous acceptance speech was a fitting end to a convention that he entered with three major tactical goals: (1) to calm the most restive of Hillary Clinton’s supporters and to make a convincing statement to the press that the wounds of the primary season are on their way to healing; (2) to alter the public’s deeply held and instinctive view of John McCain as a principled warrior-patriot who stands above politics; and (3) to defend himself against the G.O.P.’s charge that he lacks substance and seasoning – and to inoculate himself against the escalation of these attacks at next week’s Republican convention.
His speech tonight addressed the third challenge quite well – and in a way that only Obama (and not any of the other convention speakers who vouched for his substance and seasoning) could address it.
Significant progress was made in the other two areas as well. Who knows if a good chunk of the Clinton primary voters who have so far resisted Obama will now embrace him? It’s entirely possible that, but for her most vocal supporters, they haven’t been waiting for a signal from her at all, that they simply represent a wing of the Democratic Party that rejected Obama and his supporters in the primary and may never come around.
But a bigger threat, perhaps, was the media’s fixation on his “Clinton problem.” To that end, Hillary and Bill helped immeasurably, with convention speeches that answered every reasonable question about their commitment to Obama’s election in the fall.
And, but for a restrained opening-night session, the convention was filled with aggressive attacks on McCain – all prefaced, of course, with praise for his Vietnam-era heroism and his past flirtations with political independence. Most significantly for Obama, his running mate, Joe Biden, showed clear signs that he welcomes the challenge of attacking McCain – on the trail and in the nationally televised VP debate.
Convention bounces are tough to predict and can be fleeting. But on the whole, it’s hard to believe this one won’t help Obama – and impossible to believe it will hurt him.