Obama Campaign Lifted by Powerful Rhetoric
In the days and weeks leading up to Barack Obama’s acceptance speech at this week’s Democratic National Convention in Denver, the excitement and anticipation over the speech has grown to almost mythic proportions.
“What we’ll hear tonight is the speech of a future president,” said Jeremy Cogan, 25, who’s an alternate delegate for California at the convention. “People will walk out of here with energy.”
Indeed, Obama’s well known rhetorical spells are what gave him the national prominence he now has. Obama is the junior senator from Illinois and has only served for four years at the national level, a fact his detractors often point out. But he burst out into the national consciousness after a stirring speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston, Mass. and used that momentum to propel himself on his campaign for the Democratic Party nomination.
“People remembered that speech,” Cogan said. “It showed he could energize a crowd, and that even then he had the qualities of a leader. (His acceptance speech) is a culmination of that moment.”
Michael Kanner, an adjunct instructor in the CU political science department who has studied political rhetoric in depth, said a politician’s public speaking ability can have a profound effect on their political careers.
“A good speech can do wonders,” Kanner said. “It can destroy a reputation or it can give you a reputation.”
Kanner said it was unlikely Obama would be the Democratic nominee if it weren’t for his 2004 speech because Kanner said Obama doesn’t have a large political resume.
“There’s no legislation that has his name attached,” Kanner said, such as the McCain-Feingold campaign reform bill, which is named after the bill’s two sponsors, Senators John McCain and Russell Feingold.
Kanner also said there is some precedence for candidates making names for themselves with compelling speeches. He said former President John F. Kennedy originally rose to prominence following his speech at the Democratic National Convention in 1956 before his election in 1960. He also said former President Ronald Reagan started to build his career after his speech at the Republican National Convention in 1976 before being elected in 1980.
Kanner said the pressure for Obama to deliver a good speech could hurt him if the speech ends up being a disappointment.
“The expectations are so great, if (his speech) isn’t one of the greatest speeches ever delivered, it will fall flat,” he said. “He has to hit it out of the park. That’s a lot of pressure.”
On the other hand, Kanner said Obama’s speech was the best chance he had to deal a serious blow to McCain in the coming months.
“(Obama’s) been running this marathon and he hasn’t broken away yet,” Kanner said. “If he nails (the speech), he’ll get a jump, which he needs.”
Regardless of how the speech turns out, excitement was running high in Invesco Field in the hours leading up to the main event.
“I’m expecting to hear a good speech,” said Patrick Priest, a 42-year old accountant from Denver. Priest said he, like most Americans, first heard about Obama after his speech at the 2004 DNC and was looking forward to hearing him speak tonight. “The bar is set pretty high, so it will have to be good to meet everyone’s expectations.”
Obama is also exciting young voters, or in some cases people who can’t even vote yet.
“I think he has a vision,” said Brian Caldwell, 15, a native of Denver. “I think he’s going to change the world for the better and he knows how to do it.”
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Rob Ryan at email@example.com