Grading the Speeches: 2012 Democratic Convention

Time to roll up our sleeves and grade the Democratic Convention.  Keep in mind, the same rubric applies as it did for the Republicans.  Links to speeches can help you make up your own mind:

Ted Strickland:  In case you wonder what a Democratic partisan sounds like, here you are.  In the Twitter age, stuff like this flies onto the greasy screens: “Mitt Romney has so little economic patriotism that even his money needs a passport” or “Obama saved the American auto industry.  Romney saved on his taxes.” On the edge B+/A-

Deval Patrick:  The Guv-after-Romney from MA has charisma, presence, and charm–possibly a triple threat that some suggest could have been more effectively deployed.  You may agree or disagree–but its hard to not be overwhelmed by the sheer effective trade craft in both verbal and non-verbal oratorial skill.  He revved up the crowd–and maybe the mics are messing with us, but they sounded a lot more jazzed than the Republicans did all last week.  Too bad he succumbed to the Paul Ryan lack of “truthiness” when criticizing Mitt.  A-

Tribute Video:  Channeling the ghost of Senator Edward Kennedy was a blast from the past, and may be the wrong approach for a part that is asking for four more years.  This undoubtedly placated the base (but nobody else).  However, the jabs at Romney–a la the original Kennedy/Romney US Senate debates are edited for multiple impacts.  “I am for a woman’s choice.  My opponent is multiple choice” opines Kennedy.  Pow!  B+

Michelle Obama:  Powerful political rhetoric that resold the base another barrel of enthusiasm and may even have made headway into the most imoportant creature of the 2012 election–the brain of political moderates. As E.J. Dionne notes, she “devastated by implication” and through personal stories. .

Julian Castro:  Odd cadence and style that feels like sucking up (Jimmy Fallon nailed it).  Even so, the stagecraft of his precious 3-year-old daughter, blithely ignoring the cameras–made the message for him–as a good son and kind father, and a name to watch according to politicos.  (He can make some public speaking improvements, even though maybe this was an overly tough assignment to receive.)  B-

Bill Clinton:  The classic campaign cum reelection speech with a liberal does of policy wonkery.  Welcome back, Slick Willey.  He has better arguments, gestures, facial expressions, poise, and charm–all the while making substantive points and treating you like an adult–and it worked big time.  He leads the pro-Wall Street wing of the party, in direct oppostion to Elizabeth Warren (explained in NYT). A+

John Kerry: Where was this guy in 2004?  Good speech with lots of quick jabs, foreign policy punches, and overall a great tryout for Sec State. Tricky message for Kerry to call Mitt a flip-flopper, but he did and got away with it. B+

Veep Biden: Expectations were a little lower for Joe Biden, but he marshaled strong arguments against Romney, even if he ad libbed–true to form.  2016? A-

President Obama:  [transcript] Hard to follow the previous speakers, and hard to follow on expectations from his past speeches.  Clearly, the President is a skilled orator–but what approach would he take tonight?  His tone was different from past speeches–more “presidential” and also more muted without the grand promises and with some sharp distinctions. “You elected me to tell the truth.”  The theme of morality, echoed by Biden and Clinton, is another line in the sand–protecting the vulnerable and avoiding absolutes: “And by the way, those of us who carry on his party’s legacy should remember that not every problem can be remedied with another government program or dictate from Washington.” Some like Joe Klein and David Brooks hoped the President would “close the deal” or lay out a plan and chose a big plan/clear path.  Ross Douthat even ventured that it was Obama’s weakest speech ever–which is like saying Michael Phelps only won bronze. The delivery was strong, the approach subdued, the message had more substance than Romney–and a great take down of Romney’s foreign policy gaffes.  But overall, he is the President and I tend to agree that it was his ultimate goal to lead out and show the path.  A-

Overall, higher grades in the oratorial skill for the Democratic Convention.  If you wanted to be moved, you were moved. If you were undecided, hard to say if your position was changed.  Sometimes it feels like our hyper-critical, immediate-feedback media machine is a little too much.  Just look back and enjoy the real classics.


4 thoughts on “Grading the Speeches: 2012 Democratic Convention”

  1. An article in Slate Magazine caught my attention – The Democratic Party is now the dominant foreign-policy party. The author claims that “the Democratic party is now the party of national-security policy; not just a wise or thoughtful foreign and military policy, but any kind of thinking whatsoever about matters beyond the water’s edge.” If we’re gauging the parties’ dominance in matters of foreign policy based on what was mentioned in the National Convention speeches, are the claims justified? Thoughts?

  2. Republicans, including Romney, are now trying to use Clinton’s speech to draw a stark contrast between what kind of a president Obama should be (like a cooperative Clinton), and what he really is (a stubborn mule, according to Republicans). Romney will make his comments on the issue tomorrow on “Meet the Press” ( It seemed to me that Clinton’s address overshadowed Obama’s, and many think that was a mistake for the Democrats. But I think it was good for the Democrats. Clinton (after spending the last four years rebuilding his public image) is widely seen as a successful president and humanitarian. Americans want to hear from someone besides Obama right now, someone that can reassure them that Obama is on the right track. To that end, I think Clinton’s speech was a homerun, and the boost that Obama badly needed.

  3. Listening to Obama’s speech in 2012 Democratic National Convention, I wasn’t surprised by the lack of substance. Unlike the promises he made when he took the office of President or during his last state of the union address (which by the way still remain largely unfulfilled), President Obama assured the audience that America was already on the right track towards economic recovery. He asserted that he was elected to make tough decisions and that he knew going into this that sucess for America would not come all at once. As proof of this, he mentioned his saving of the American auto industry and of the advances for reform in medicare under his presidency. Yet, he did not make much mention of how his administration would act to solve for the United State’s current economic problems such as the still very high levels of unemployment. The most substance that I got from his speech was that his administration would continue to do what they had been doing; which is taxing the upper class more proportionately while giving tax breaks to the middle class. His speech was beautiful in its delivery but was considered by many to be one of his weaker speaches overall and lacking in real substance.

  4. I concur. I saw today on the news that Obama’s ratings had spiked after the Democratic convention. This article from Gallup ( suggests that Clinton was key in this spike. Interestingly enough Gallup found 56% of Americans rating Clinton’s speech positively, including 34% who said it was “excellent,” similar to the high ratings of Obama’s well-regarded 2008 speech, whereas Obama had only 43% respond positively to his speech this year. This shows voters as disenchanted with Obama compared with four years ago. Clinton greatly helped boost Obama’s image and credibility in the public eye by validating the current president and his mission.

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