Obama's big night


[N4N will be away from the blog for a few days]

Unlike his Republican opponent, Barack Obama faces very high expectations for his much-anticipated DNC address tomorrow night. The stakes are high, as it will help to set the tone for the rest of his campaign -- and perhaps more.

Tomorrow night, there will be a DNC Nominating Party at Local 121 in Providence. A "Yes We Can" viewing party is also planned in Barrington.

Here's some of what Steven Stark has to say about Obama's DNC address:

All good candidates look to the past for ideas on how to put together memorable rhetoric. When JFK called his program “the New Frontier,” it was a terrific way of connecting his ideas with traditional Americana. Obama, however, doesn’t need a slogan; he needs a story. The recommendation here is that he study the speech that — believe it or not — George H. W. Bush gave when accepting the GOP nomination in 1988.

Bush faced a problem analogous to Obama’s. As he went to the convention, many voters perceived him as nothing more than a removed, upper-class patrician who had been handed everything important in life without having to work for it. Who could relate to that?

In that single speech, Bush presented a different narrative of his life — with the help of Noonan, chief speechwriter for his ’88 campaign. It’s worth quoting at length. “Yes, my parents were prosperous; and their children sure were lucky,” Bush began. He went on:

But there were lessons we had to learn about life. John Kennedy discovered poverty when he campaigned in West Virginia; there were children who had no milk. And young Teddy Roosevelt met the new America when he roamed the immigrant streets of New York. And I learned a few things about life in a place called Texas . . . .

[W]e moved to west Texas 40 years ago, 40 years ago this year. And the War was over, and we wanted to get out and make it on our own. And those were exciting days. We lived in a little shotgun house, one room for the three of us. Worked in the oil business, then started my own.

In time we had six children. Moved from the shotgun, to a duplex apartment, to a house. And lived the dream — high-school football on Friday night, Little League, neighborhood barbecue.

People don’t see their experience as symbolic of an era — but of course we were. And so was everyone else who was taking a chance and pushing into unknown territory with kids and a dog and a car. But the big thing I learned is the satisfaction of creating jobs, which meant creating opportunity, which meant happy families, who in turn could do more to help others and enhance their own lives. I learned that the good done by a single good job can be felt in ways you can’t imagine.

It’s a passage full of everyday American touchstones. It soars because the ideas are presented concretely and cinematically, not abstractly. It focuses on the “we,” rather than the “I.”

Next week, when Obama delivers his speech on the 45th anniversary of the memorable “I Have a Dream” address, he may be tempted to present himself as a kind of heir to Martin Luther King. He shouldn’t. The times are different and, more important, Obama’s task is different. King could uplift and challenge a nation without worrying about how to get a majority to vote for him two months later.

Obama’s campaign may have trouble achieving lift-off without a compelling narrative. This is his greatest opportunity to present one.

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