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About Last Night

1:06 PM, Sep 4, 2008 • By DEAN BARNETT
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1) I know I'm waddling in late here, and my tardiness presents a bit of a problem. There aren't many ways of saying, "It was a great speech!" that haven't already been exhausted. But it was a great speech, a campaign altering speech.

For reasons still unknown, the Democrats based their entire message the past week on dismissing Sarah Palin as a moose-hunting rubette who had no business even considering diminishing Washington with her strange, rural folkways. They shouldn't have. If they had looked outside their cocoon, they would have learned that Sarah Palin has a reputation as an impressive individual and an especially impressive campaigner. As Mark Steyn has pointed out, much of the country was probably expecting the media caricature of Palin that over-eager Obama supporters have peddled so aggressively the past five days. That Palin exceeded these expectations is no surprise since the media successfully set expectations so low. The fact that she smashed them has instantly changed both campaigns.

More important of course is the energy and dynamism that Palin brings to the Republican ticket. The fear in some conservative circles had been that the media would so diminish Palin that she would never have a chance with the American public. But she of course had a chance, the same chance that Ronald Reagan always used so well. Like Reagan, Palin appealed directly to the American people. After the speech, objective MSNBC anchor Keith Olbermann offered analysis that Palin came across as Tracy Flick (from the movie "Election"). That touch of unique Olbermannesque neutrality may have knocked ‘em dead in the Netroots, but Olbermann didn't get the last word last night. Palin did.

2) Interesting that the Obama campaign has decided that it has a winner in pointing out that Palin "cheated" by having a speechwriter. Of course, a pliant media did its job last night in spreading this supremely lame talking point. The funhouse at MSNBC was all over it, and even half the panel at Fox saw it as a nugget of information requiring dissemination. One can only wonder why media analysts didn't feel it necessary to point out that Joe Biden's oratory also received the ministrations of speechwriting pros (all appearances to the contrary). Could it be that Biden's speech was so dreadful, no one felt the provenance of the speech required clarification?

Of course, this weak return of serve is unlikely to have its desired effect of dismissing Palin's performance. Once again, Palin spoke directly to the American people last night - they'll make up their own minds about her. It must really concern the Democrats that Palin will have many similar opportunities in the future.

A couple of final points on this matter - if giving a great speech is so darn easy, how come Joe Biden, John Kerry and Chris Dodd with a combined 340 years in politics have never been able to pull it off? And if it's such an irrelevant skill, why again exactly is Barack Obama the Democrats' nominee?

3) The "too mean" canard - I'll offer the Obama campaign and it supporters some of my priceless free advice - stop the whining. In the race to date, Obama surrogates have ridiculed John McCain as senile, belittled his military service and serially called him a liar. Sarah Palin for her part hasn't exactly been spared the left's bile. And yet mocking Barack Obama's history as a community organizer is suddenly unspeakably cruel? The thin skin of Obama and his minions never ceases to impress.

4) Now on to the important stuff - We've all noticed John McCain's habit of littering his speeches with the phrase "My friends." This habit isn't Senator McCain's greatest rhetorical strength. Indeed, it may be his greatest rhetorical weakness. And yet through two days of the RNC (or three days depending on how you count), it's been a regular my-friends-frenzy. Virtually every speaker has turned the phrase a time or two.

As Paul Collins noted in a Slate column a few days ago, FDR popularized the "my friends" formulation and then it grew stale. And yet once or twice a generation, a politician dusts it off. In 1988, both George H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis grew enamored with the phrase. But as Dickerson points out, only the weaker orators have gravitated to the locution. Michael Dukakis leaned on it, while Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton eschewed it.

And yet last night even Mike Huckabee, a terrific orator, tossed in a "my friends." Virtually every Republican who has approached the dais during the RNC has done the same. So did Joe Lieberman. Why? My theory is that McCain is popularizing the phrase. It is sweeping the Republican party and may soon sweep the nation as "Daddy O" did in an earlier, more innocent era.