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The Most Surprising Convention Speech

Few here in Denver paid much attention to Mark Warner’s keynote speech last night. That’s only natural -- we all know who the real headliner was. Hillary Clinton’s speech has already been analyzed, commentated and blogged within an inch of its life. But Warner’s performance is worth revisiting, because clearly it wasn’t aimed at the delegates inside the Pepsi Center (who would have preferred some of that much-in-demand “red meat.”) It was for independents and “Obamacans” watching at home -- and it was the most strikingly nonpartisan convention speech I think I’ve ever heard.

Actually, it was so post-partisan that this blog should be getting royalties. Warner said that “if an idea works, it really doesn’t matter if it has an ‘R’ or a ‘D’ next to it.” That’s unassailably true. But it’s not going to win much love from a hall full of people who have come to Denver to get revved up for the November election by convincing themselves that ‘R’ is the sign of the devil. (As Republicans will do with ‘D’ next week.)

The calculation, obviously, was that this most unusual notion to posit at a party convention -- that party doesn’t necessarily matter -- would play a lot better in living rooms across the country. Despite all the Clinton drama, Barack Obama’s people are firmly in charge of this convention. And Warner’s speech suggests that Obama still believes what he used to say before the primaries: that people are weary of the old politics, that Washington is stuck on old arguments that began in the '60s, and that moving forward will require transformational consensus that goes beyond party affiliation.

Through November -- and maybe beyond -- there’s something we really ought to try to keep in mind: Obama has always said that he doesn’t just want to win an election, he wants to change the game.

By Eugene Robinson  | August 27, 2008; 1:18 PM ET
Categories:  Robinson  | Tags:  Eugene Robinson  
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Next: Bob Casey's Speech Mattered


Thank you, Eugene. As always, your perspective reflects journalistic integrity, thoughtfulness and a view from a higher platform. You are one of the few remaining bastions of balance in a rapidly deteriorating and increasingly partisan journal called the Washington Post... and by the by, one of the few reasons I continue to read it.

Posted by: meanspirited | August 27, 2008 2:05 PM | Report abuse


Gallup poll shows McCain nudging ahead of Obama
by The Times-Picayune

Tuesday August 26, 2008, 5:52 PM

Democrats worried that Barack Obama was not pulling away from John McCain in recent polls were a little shaken today when a Gallup daily tracking poll showed the Republican moving slightly ahead.

PRINCETON, NJ -- It's official: Barack Obama has received no bounce in voter support out of his selection of Sen. Joe Biden to be his vice presidential running mate.
Gallup Poll Daily tracking from Aug. 23-25, the first three-day period falling entirely after Obama's Saturday morning vice presidential announcement, shows 46% of national registered voters backing John McCain and 44% supporting Obama, not appreciably different from the previous week's standing for both candidates. This is the first time since Obama clinched the nomination in early June, though, that McCain has held any kind of advantage over Obama in Gallup Poll Daily tracking.


Posted by: SPRING RAIN | August 27, 2008 2:13 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps Spring Rain should contemplate the yawning gap between her assertion of the upcoming McCain "LANDSLIDE" and the article she cites as proof of that assertion, which reports that McCain may be "moving slightly ahead" in a recent Gallup tracking poll. This is especially true given that the poll cited includes the note that such a movement "is not a statistically significant improvement over [McCain's] recent range from 43% to 45%."

On second thought, it might be difficult for SR to sustain such prolonged nuance of thought, so maybe she should stick with the all caps broadsides.

Posted by: Everett | August 27, 2008 2:23 PM | Report abuse

I always enjoy your wit and political analysis of the way it is.Keep writing good pieces like this one. I also like it when you appear on MSNBc you bring a lot to the table. Maybe you could become a regular on the Morning Joe show-that boy needs some one to balance him. He disrespects Miki frequently. Some mornings I switch channels because his bias becomes too much for 3am pacific time.

Posted by: jac66 | August 27, 2008 2:30 PM | Report abuse

Thanks Gene. I agree. Warner's speech was awesome, and unfortunately lost in the Clinto-drama.

The Democrats are now the party of ideas. The Republicans used to have the ideas - mostly bad ones, to be sure - but they dropped them in favor of cronyism, corruption, and ideological rigor mortis. Warner articulated the new, pragmatic, solutions-oriented spirit of the party that's rushed into the vacuum formerly known as "Republican leadership."

Posted by: VJ | August 27, 2008 2:36 PM | Report abuse

Thank you for your analysis, Eugene.

Do you think Mark Warner was attempting a 2004 Obama, "There is no Red state or Blue state" type of appeal?

Even as it could be construed to be directed at those outside of the convention hall, Obama's speach sure blew away those attending as well.

There's a way of appealing to both targets. And while I've not yet viewed Warner's speech, I'm hearing that he missed the mark w/democratic delegates.

Posted by: pdx democrat | August 27, 2008 2:39 PM | Report abuse

Hard to believe you would actually use the polls as an indicator of right vs wrong. Given most people think drilling off-shore for oil will help, GeorgeBush was the best choice over Al Gore and John Kerry, and they believed going to war with Iraq was a good thing.

Posted by: Sargon | August 27, 2008 2:41 PM | Report abuse

Nah, Mr Robinson, you're good, but the most surprising convention speech was from Chelsea Clinton introducing her mother.

I don't know what her political aspirations if any may be, but she's one to watch in the years coming.

Posted by: Hneftafl | August 27, 2008 2:48 PM | Report abuse

If Biden/Hillary/Richardson were the Dem canidate and C. Powell were running for the GOP, whom would you support?

Is it really about policy for you?

Your copy is so predictable and knee-jerk, I think I know. Perhaps I under-estimate you. Don't think so. What a shame it all is.

2008...the Year of Insuperable Problems for USA!

Posted by: Oh, Eugene... | August 27, 2008 2:50 PM | Report abuse

If Biden/Hillary/Richardson were the Dem canidate and C. Powell were running for the GOP, whom would you support?

Is it really about policy for you?

Your copy is so predictable and knee-jerk, I think I know. Perhaps I under-estimate you. Don't think so. What a shame it all is.

2008...the Year of Insuperable Problems for USA!

Posted by: Oh, Eugene... | August 27, 2008 2:51 PM | Report abuse

Warner dropped out too soon too early, perhaps out of fear of the Clinton machine. If he had stayed on, perhaps none of this division between the Obama's camp and the Clinton's camp would have happened. We would instead have a solid nominee with a track record both at governing and running a business and none of the baggage of the other two.

But Robinson would not like that now would he?

Posted by: tom007 | August 27, 2008 2:53 PM | Report abuse

Firstly, Sorry Gene the speech wss dull in fact the govenor's speech was so dull that no one even heard what he said. The people at home turned him off as well as thoses at the convention. Secondly Gene do you write your own things or does the Obama campaign write it for you? I disagree with the other posters. This peice was quite worthless.

Posted by: political observer | August 27, 2008 2:54 PM | Report abuse

I would like to see the Obama/Warner approach of rising above partisanship work, but I don't hold much hope, given the hysteria that keeps manifesting itself, even in comment boards like this one. I believe Obama can change the tone in Washington, but he has to win first.

Posted by: Howard | August 27, 2008 2:57 PM | Report abuse

another commentary consistent with your expected fair and balanced and intelligent analysis whether in the washington post or on msnbc

with respect to the latter i hope that scarborough will be decommissioned along with the silly upstaging mica and the pat buchanan jaded mentality

the viewing public should demand better

Posted by: gerald luss | August 27, 2008 2:58 PM | Report abuse

So Robinson decides to completely ignore Hillary's impassioned speech rather than be forced to acknowledge that it was absolutely outstanding. Instead he chooses to heap praise upon the hackneyed, cliche-ridden speech by Warner. Clearly Robinson would rather stick pins in his eyes than admit what an amazing speech Hillary gave last night. At least he is consistent with his tiresome and overt bias.

Posted by: Debbie | August 27, 2008 2:58 PM | Report abuse

What about Governor Schweitzer's speech last night? It was one of the best, certainly the most dramatic, of the convention so far. Red meat reality from Montana, a red meat state. Give'em Hell, Brian!

Posted by: acboatman | August 27, 2008 3:00 PM | Report abuse

You say that Barrak wants to "change the game."

The problem is he hasn't elaborated on what this so called change will be.

Posted by: Al | August 27, 2008 3:06 PM | Report abuse

Obama, before starting his campaign, laid out his platform in great detail in his second book, "The Audacity of Hope." No one who hasn't read this book is entitled to claim that they don't know what Obama stands for. He has organized a 50-state campaign which runs like a well-oiled machine. He has chosen a very strong v-p running mate. He's ready to be President.

Posted by: oldhonky | August 27, 2008 3:09 PM | Report abuse

Instead of relegating Obama to the trash heap, Rain should consider the issues facing this country and the facts of where we are today versus where we want to be. Do you really want 4 more years as bad as the past 8 years have been? Because if we elect John McCain, that is what we will get. He votes with Bush 95% of the time!

Are you rich? If so, he's your guy. For the rest of us, his tax plans will give a measly $200 a year in tax relief, as opposed to over $1000 under Obama. (But under McCain's plan, McCain gets $300,00 a year of tax reduction!)

Do you want 4 more years of Iraq? How bout some more wars in Georgia, Iran, and wherever else McCain's temper takes us. Great plan.

It's idiots like you, voting for Bush and his ilk, that have gotten us in this mess. Some people should not be allowed to vote!

Posted by: Jenny | August 27, 2008 3:18 PM | Report abuse

Gov. Warner's speech was extraordinary in that it framed the entire campaign in a thoroughly non-partisan way while still highlighting the deficiencies of the current administration and its potential continuation if the old policies are embraced once more by the electorate. That its import was mostly lost in the obsession of the media with the Clintons is disappointing. Give Clinton an "A" for delivery but there was nothing in the speech that could not have been predicted. It was Gov. Warner's framing of this campaign that should serve as the guiding principle of the campaign rather than the "Entertainment Tonight" approach we have endured for too long.

Posted by: phil, nj | August 27, 2008 3:43 PM | Report abuse

We love her deeply, madly, fully. She is a brilliant serious woman with a command of policy and genuine concern for everyday people. For those of us, like the Clintons, who have worked for social justice our whole lives to have been labled racist hillbillies by Sen. Obama's surrogates and overgrown frat boys with blogs and TV shows just because we preferred Hillary is part of the reason many of her admirers have not come to support Barack. But ultimately we will do as she asked and defeat the real freaks in the Republican party - we will give Obama our votes but she has our hearts

Posted by: Charley Clairmont | August 27, 2008 3:52 PM | Report abuse

Riiiight! Obama just doesn't want to win the that why he is constantly swaying on abortion, time limits on Iraq, etc.? At first, I thought he was different, now I think he's more of the same old political ballyhoo. And...if you think one man or woman can change politics in DC, you've got another think coming. If he gets in, which I highly doubt, he will run up against so much opposition, it will make Bill Clinton's opposition look mild.

Posted by: das | August 27, 2008 4:04 PM | Report abuse

Right on, Eugene! That is exactly what this election is about. Because of the media's obsession with it's self, they're missing what's really happening this election. They missed it a year ago when they anointed Hillary. The folks running the Obama campaign have no interest in the 60's, the culture wars, abortion, etc. They see massive problems and they and to fix them. When the anti-war demonstrators were battling police and the D-convention, getting shot at by the law and order Republicans, getting 20 years for a gram of pot, there were no cell phones or computers. There were four networks, a few airlines and things like recycling, eating natural foods and worrying about the environment was considered radical and un-American.

The culture wars are over. Let the network talking heads talk to each other, meanwhile the largest grass roots organization ever is about to surprise everybody.

Posted by: thebob.bob | August 27, 2008 4:35 PM | Report abuse

Wrong! The best speaker of the convention was Senator Hillary Clinton. She did a great job. Now Obama needs to close the deal.

Posted by: mmarii | August 27, 2008 4:47 PM | Report abuse

Warner's comments are couched in the vernacular of a purple stater who gingerly avoids "hard" labels in order to focus the debate on who will be better stewards of the public trust.

Since the very idea of "governing" is anathema to the Republican DNA, Democrats such as Warner, Kaine, and Sebellius have simply recognized a void and exploited it. Come to think of it, that's how Mark Warner fell into the cell phone business and raked in millions. Lesson learned.

Posted by: Steve in DC | August 27, 2008 5:40 PM | Report abuse

“McCain is like a Grumpy Elephant with no vision and a flip flopping memory! There is a reason this Elephant is always attacking without a postive message. His trainers are Rove & Schmidt at the circus! We know what to expect at the McCain’s convention a Grumpy Elephant entwining his trunk with 2 Rogue elephants in Bush/Cheney with two cheering trainers in Rove & Schmidt who are trying to sell the American People a 3 rd George Bush Term.” RFK

Posted by: Yei Raven | August 27, 2008 6:12 PM | Report abuse

Jenny, Jenny vulnerable, so trusting. The Dems should be ashamed for taking advantage of your naivete. Wipe the drool off your chin Jenny, it doesn't become you.Besides you'll need to exercise some restraint especially when you learn Barracks Cabinet choices have just been leaked......

Bill Ayers - Sec of Defense - He'll save the country billions as he dismantles the Armed Forces a la Bill Clinton. He's also sharing some of his bomb making secrets with the Weapons Research department.

Tony Rezco - Secretary of Housing and Urban Development - Brings a lot of experience with strong negotiation skills.

Rev. Jeremiah Wright - Secretary of State - How can Barrack resist? Rev. Wright is SUCH a smooth operator. Though he hates his country he sure likes his $1.6MM new mansion he's building in the US.

Nancy Pelosi - Secretary of Treasury - I heard her first project was to put her big white grill on every $1 bill!

Oprah Winfrey - Secretary of Everything Else

Besides, when is that "Baldwin" guy moving out of the country? It's been 4 years now. Guess he doesn't want to give up his cush gig on "30 Rock", especially since he hasn't been offered a decent movie role since "Hunt for Red October". Besides, the summers in Africa are kinda' hot for him.

Just another "Democratic promise that was never fulfilled. I was concerned the Dems might actually pull off winning the White House back, but look to find Barack Obama's name on the popular "" website.It's his to lose and he's working overtime to accomplish this and you can't help feeling sorry for the Obama's..... they're just everyday folks like you and me struggling to make do on their $4MM a year income and trying to keep the ole' $1.3MM mansion in decent shape. Maybe he can sublet a room to John Edwards. I hear he's in the doghouse these days.

The current Democratic Congress has been the most unproductive Congress in U.S. history. You've proven you can't even accomplish anything within your own party. The public is sick of the deadlock. The public wants someone who can accomplish and lead, but your candidate of 3 years of Senate experience isn't ready just yet.

Barack will make a monster of a Democratic candidate 10-12 years from now with some experience under his belt, but his speeches of nothingness are being discovered and revealed. Best of luck in 2016.

Posted by: Cannon Farris | August 27, 2008 6:33 PM | Report abuse

Obama has to fight wind and a storm at the moment and that often means fighting against them too. Warner is preaparing for figthing in future national winds and storms. It's another perspective.

Posted by: maz hess | August 28, 2008 2:41 AM | Report abuse

I admire Eugene Robinson for his pragmatism, sense of humor, intelligence and insight. This is the first time I've looked at the comments on his blog and I must say I am appalled. There is a mean-spirited tenor to many of the comments from people on both sides of the political divide.
This is not about who is old, who is arrogant, it's about our future. If we can't exercise some civility in exchanging views, there is little hope for us as a nation. We'll continue to self-segregate ourselves into communities of people who think exactly like we do, and will increasingly oppose any thought that doesn't conform to our point of view. We'll continue to get exactly what we deserve: politicians who appeal to the lowest common denominator, as that denominator gets lower and lower as the years go by.
What I got from Mark Warner's speech was a desire to change the game of politics to one where politicians listen to one another and try to work together. If the comments on your blog are any indication, it's going to be an uphill battle.

Posted by: don't call me shirley | August 28, 2008 1:05 PM | Report abuse

John McCain made one mistake: getting shot down.
He made a bigger mistake when he gave his captors more than his name, rank and serial number.
McCain cracked. He confessed to war crimes, slandering US fighting forces and our nation in
a propaganda film made to order for the North Vietnamese communists.
I was a prisoner of war in Vietnam, but I didn't betray my country and my comrades in arms
the way John McCain did. America's enemies may want a traitor and a coward as our next president
but I sure don't. So I won't vote for John McCain.
True Christian and faithful person will be stupid to Vote for McCheater who has admitted adultery while married to his first wife.
That marriage broke up after McCain met Cindy Hensley, who was young, rich and offered McCain
a base to launch the political career he was already contemplating. How could you trust this Cheater man to lead America?
Shame on Media that are in longer-standing love affair with McCain and are not criticising him as they should.

Posted by: kevin | August 28, 2008 1:33 PM | Report abuse

There is a lag in the polling data.

Today Gallup shows Obama up 48% to 42%.

Posted by: Mr.Unite Us | August 28, 2008 1:59 PM | Report abuse

What has surprised me most about this convention is the way that Obama's surrogates have openly discussed the need for Wall Street to take a back seat in directing the future policy of our nation. Many, actually nearly all, of our biggest problems have arisen because of influence peddling throughout on Capitol Hill. The clearest example was the quote from Barney Smith stating that "our next president should care more about Barney Smith than Smith Barney". The needs of Main Street, over the profit pressure of Wall Street was an mantra repeated over and over again... and this is the first time since I've been a voter (33 years) it's not just a vague hint on a stump speech. I really think Obama means it. It's a miracle that he has gotten this far and now has the willpower and funding power to decline federal funds for the fall. My kids were right, it only took them 4 months last fall to convince me to switch my vote from Hillary to Obama.
Those of us who are boomers, remember the values we had in the 60's- to bad it took the next generation to actually act on our words.

Wendy Rosen
AmericanStyle Magazine
The AmericanMade Alliance

Posted by: Wendy Rosen | August 29, 2008 3:17 AM | Report abuse

Didn't they move Warner's speech from primetime? How does that jive with the target audience being the people in their livingrooms?

Posted by: LauraC | August 30, 2008 1:01 PM | Report abuse

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