Did Obama's Speech Succeed?

Sen. Barack Obama made the speech of his lifetime on the last night of the Democratic National Convention. News analyst Juan Williams says the speech was memorable as an event, but that no one line stood out.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is Day to Day. I am Madeleine Brand. The big political news today is that John McCain has picked Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. She is 44 years old. She's a mother of five. Her selection has pushed Barack Obama off the headlines, at least for the time being. More than 80,000 Democrats cheered Obama last night in Denver as he accepted his party's nomination for president. NPR news analyst Juan Williams was there. I spoke with him earlier.

JUAN WILLIAMS: I thought what was spectacular really was the fact that you had so many people and the setting was so wonderful and the energy in the room, unprecedented, I thought, for any acceptance speech. But in terms of the speech itself, Madeleine, I thought it was almost like a matter of policy prescriptions, pretty detailed. And what you could take away from it was, oh, he's smart. And then secondly, that he gets it. And he said repeatedly, you know, that John McCain doesn't get it. John McCain doesn't understand the struggles of average Americans. So, on that level, I think it worked. But do I think that is going to be a memorable speech? No.

BRAND: Not memorable?

WILLIAMS: No. I think it's memorable in terms of the event, but I don't think there is any one line out of this speech that's going to resonate in the American mind next week.

BRAND: Now what about this? You actually criticized Obama yesterday in The Wall Street Journal for not addressing issues of race forcibly enough, especially issues of personal responsibility in the African-American community and Obama actually did speak to that issue last night. Let's hear a bit of it.

(Soundbite of 2008 Democratic National Convention, August 28, 2008)

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Presidential Nominee): We must also admit that programs alone can't replace parents, that government can't tell turn off the television and make a child do her homework, that fathers must take more responsibility to provide love and guidance to their children.

(Soundbite of applause)

BRAND: Juan Williams, is that what you wanted to hear last night?

WILLIAMS: Absolutely. And I hope that Barack Obama heard that roar. You know, that's the kind of thing that he had shied away from. He's stayed away from discussion of race in general, Madeleine. I was surprised that last night he didn't bring up the reference to the I Have a Dream speech, it being the 45th anniversary of that historic speech of Martin Luther King, Jr. He didn't bring that up until the very end, as a coda, and again, it got a tremendous response.

So, you know, in a week in which, I've got to tell you, it was so an emotional week for me as a black man to see Michelle Obama and her kids on Monday night, and you know, just that positive image of a black family. I tell you, I felt like I was crying inside. I just thought, you know, my parents couldn't have imagined, as black people in America, they'd ever see such a day..

BRAND: And maybe crying a little bit on the outside. I saw you on Fox, and in fact, you were tearing up...

WILLIAMS: I was. I tell you. I thought it was a really emotional moment. You know, it's one of these things, you know, I think it was Martin Luther King who said, the arch of a moral universe is long but it bends towards justice. And I thought, you know, it was one of those moments when you can see the moral universe come into view.

BRAND: I wonder if it doesn't really matter that there wasn't a takeaway line, as you say, from last night's speech. I mean, just the imagery and the way he spoke and just what he said was powerful enough.

WILLIAMS: Well, you know, what's interesting to me is, I think my wife and daughter may have provided me with the most compelling conversation of the week, in which they said exactly that. The image of Barack Obama last night was as someone who is in touch, who's smart, who is willing to take the fight to the Republicans about issues, who understands what ordinary people in this country are going through. And they didn't want him to put on a spectacular speech, a performance speech or a takeaway line. They thought what he did was just a home run.

BRAND: What did you hear from Republicans? What was their reaction to the speech?

WILLIAMS: People like Bill Crystal, the editor of the Weekly Standard, Pat Buchanan, they thought the speech was a home run, and in fact, lots of Republicans are saying this morning that they're worried that the Republican Convention in Minnesota is not going to be able to meet there standard.

BRAND: Juan, I know you have a plane to catch, going to Minneapolis/St. Paul for the Republican Convention. Thank you very much.

WILLIAMS: You are welcome, Madeleine.

BRAND: And we'll speak next week. That's NPR news analyst Juan Williams.

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