early and often

Last Night’s Three Victory Speeches

Hillary Clinton isn’t ready to admit it yet, but Barack Obama wrapped up the Democratic nomination last night after a victory in Montana and a loss to Clinton in South Dakota. Before Obama gave his speech in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Clinton spoke in New York, McCain gave a “prebuttal” in New Orleans, in which he began to make his case against Obama for the presidential race. Each speech was strikingly different in tone and reception.

Obama’s was the most typical, inasmuch as one of the best orators in American politics gave another good speech. Above you’ll see the final seven minutes, during which he donned the mantle of his party’s choice for president. When Obama said the words “I am the Democratic nominee,” it was a little quiet, as though he was still respectful (or afraid?) of Hillary Clinton. But then his speech rollicked onward to a powerful and evocative finish. He spoke highly of Senator Clinton and excoriated John McCain for worrying about Iraq more than the plight of Americans at home. And the 17,000 fans in the stadium around him were whipped into a frenzy. “He can make graciousness sound rousing,” said former Bill Clinton speechwriter David Kusnet. He “spoke with subtlety, but was received like a rock star.” “The enormous crowd in the Xcel center seems ready to lift Obama on its shoulders,” observed Marc Ambinder.

By contrast, John McCain’s speech was quiet and low-key. It sounded like a fireside chat with Andy Rooney — if Rooney was talking to an audience of children. Above, he accuses Obama of having the most liberal record in the Senate and echoes many of the Illinois senator’s sentiments on changing Washington. McCain’s delivery has been widely disparaged: “Put McCain’s speech against Obama’s — and this was a wipe-out,” noted Andrew Sullivan. “Not a victory. A wipe-out.” Well, he would say that — but even Fox News commentators weren’t impressed, and Amy Holmes at the National Review called it “creaky, ungracious, and unnecessary.”

Hillary Clinton started her speech by congratulating Obama and his supporters, and her own fans seemed happy to do so. But she ended up giving barely an inch on a night when many thought she should be conceding. After thanking South Dakota for her win, she talked about women and making history but refused to endorse her rival and continued to say that she “carried the popular vote.” She asked herself rhetorically, “What does Hillary want?” and then continued on to list all of the planks in her campaign platform. She left unanswered the real questions, which were whether she was officially dropping out and whether she would gun for a VP slot. “I will make no decisions tonight,” she intoned, leaving her party to flounder for just a few more days. Commentators were scathing: “Whoever said that after denial comes acceptance hadn’t met the Clintons,” wrote Maureen Dowd, while The New Republic’s Noam Schieber called the speech “outrageous” and “delusional.”

Last Night’s Three Victory Speeches