This is a sometimes 'cheesey' blog about British and American politics and anything else which tickles my fancy!
Wednesday, 2 July 2008
Obama on Patriotism
Barack Obama kicked off a series of "big theme" speeches this week, with an address delivered yesterday on patriotism.
Since 9/11, Democrats have allowed Republicans to seize 'patriotism' as one of their issues. Most Democrat politicians have been scared that any criticism of the Bush Administration or the war on terror would make them look unpatriotic.
Democrats have always had a problem with this. Time and time again, they have allowed Republicans to paint them as weak on defence and foreign affairs and hence unpatriotic.
Secondly, Obama's name and background pose another problem. For some Americans, whether we like it or not, Obama is just not American enough - particularly compared to McCain, the Vietnam veteran.
Therefore this was an issue that he could not afford to ignore. And in true Obama style he tackled it full on.
He spoke eloquently about the armed forces, distancing himself from some on the left who have repeatedly attacked the Generals in charge.
He spoke of self-sacrifice and national community.
And, like a good liberal, he argued forcefully that dissent could be patriotic.
His speech also came with a warning: he would not allow anyone to attack his patriotism during the campaign.
This was a speech that needed to be made. It lay down the parameters of the debate on Obama's own terms. Its message that he shared the same patriotic ideas as ordinary Americans will help reach out to those who still question Obama's credentials and make him appear like an ordinary bloke - just like them.
Campaigns need grand speeches that lay out big themes like patriotism or religion or democracy. They help establish where the candidate stands on the issue and they set the tone of the debate usually, if they are any good, on the candidates own terms.
But they also need to be complimented by smaller speeches on specific topics. It would actually be refreshing now to hear Obama make a speech that was brimming with policy details or other specific ideas on narrow topics. This, I think, would make him a less abstract figure - a politician capable of coping with the nitty-gritty of daily life and not some ivory-tower figure.
It was a good speech but he has to make sure that he gets the balance right.