Kevin Drum, whom I usually rely on to temper my optimism:
John McCain looks very, very small right about now.
In a subsequent post, Kevin points to the strategic implications of the speech: Obama attacked, not McCain personally, but contemporary U.S. conservatism, and he did so in the name of contemporary U.S. liberalism, framing the choice as between “I am my brother’s keeper”/”We’re in this together” and “You’re on your own.” Obama isn’t just playing for 270 electoral votes; he’s playing for a mandate.
If Obama wins this way, Kevin concludes,
he’ll win with a public behind him that’s actively sold on a genuinely liberal agenda. This is why conservatives have so far been apoplectic about his speech tonight: if he continues down this road, and wins, they know that he’ll leave movement conservatism in tatters. He is, at least potentially, the most dangerous politician they’ve ever faced.
I discount anything Pat Buchanan says, and as an unreconstructed “America Firster” his hatred of the neocon/imperialist project probably warps his political perceptions in way that means he doesn’t start out, despite his Republicanism and his conservatism, predisposed toward McCain. On the other hand, Buchanan got his start in life as a speechwriter and understands the craft, and he certainly understands one strain of Red American thinking.
Buchanan’s reaction to the speech last night illustrated how Obama’s strategy works, if it works. The very same speech that Kevin and I heard as a full-throated defense of liberalism Buchanan heard as “a deeply, deeply centrist speech” that “came out of the heart of America” and “went right at the heart of America.” I think the best way to say it is that Obama knows how to sing our words to their tunes. That has led some progressives either to distrust him as not really progressive or to accuse him of hypocrisy.
Neither of those perceptions is right, I think; what Obama has is a genuine understanding of the culturally threatened and a genuine willingness to hear what’s valid about their concerns, but neither of those dilutes his commitment to liberal principles and programs. He would genuinely rather find allies than enemies, but he knows which side he’s on.
Obama is dangerous to conservatives for the same reason Reagan was dangerous to liberals. That’s why the right wing is going to go all-out to destroy him, and why I’m betting that they will fail. They need to make him seem scary, and he’s not helping.