On Wednesday night, President Obama gave a barnburner of a speech celebrated by the media for its optimism, rhetorical brilliance, and dynamic variability. There’s only one problem: it didn’t help Hillary Clinton one iota.
That’s not to say the speech wasn’t good – it was, by all the usual available Obama metrics. Obama speaks well. The man knows how to use a teleprompter. The speech hit on themes Obama has scorned for years: American exceptionalism, support for the American military, unity. It was particularly galling to hear these themes come from the most divisive, anti-Constitution, weakness-promulgating president of my lifetime. But that doesn’t mean the speech was bad. It was just jarring, somewhat like hearing the words of Truman emanate from the mouth of Khruschev.
That said, the speech wasn’t effective.
Here are five reasons why.
1. The Speech Was About Obama. The speech didn’t help Hillary because Obama’s quasi-valedictory was essentially a self-glorification. Obama couldn’t help himself: he just had to place the laurel on his own brow. He mentioned himself 119 times during the speech. And while he did that with aplomb, virtually nothing he said applied to Hillary. Obama received massive cheers from an audience that worships him. But the problem with casting yourself as a god is that you can’t just hand over the torch to the next god. When you go, they build statues of you. The next guy (or gal) has to live in your shadow.
2. Obama Lied About His Record. If you listened to Obama last night, you would have thought that his presidency has been a massive success – or, as his former speechwriter Jon Lovett put it with unintentional hilarity, “Barack Obama has been a great president.” According to Obama, the economy is booming, ISIS is on the run, students are getting free college educations, Iran is under control, Cuba is free, the military is strong, and the climate is under control. That’s all patent nonsense. But more importantly, the American people know it’s patent nonsense, and they feel it in their bones. Obama’s optimism didn’t register for most Americans as a true description of reality. It registered as a genial fellow deluding himself about the nature of his presidency.
3. Obama Lied About Hillary. Obama tried to make the case that Hillary Clinton is a self-sacrificing public servant. Not only won’t that dog hunt, that dog won’t even get out of the kennel. Hillary Clinton has made herself wealthy and famous by living off the backs of the American people for virtually her entire career. When Obama said that Hillary has it rough because she’s a woman, nobody buys that – it’s the only reason anybody knows her name. When Obama said that Hillary did what she did not “for praise, it wasn’t for attention…she was in this for everyone who needs a champion,” that didn’t ring remotely true. When Obama said Hillary will destroy ISIS, nobody believes that – she helped make them a global threat. Hillary’s biggest problem in this election cycle is still Hillary, and a touch of Obama magic won’t cure that.
4. Obama’s Popularity Isn’t Transferable. This has been Democrats’ entire problem during the Obama era: his personal popularity simply does not transfer over to other Democrats. During his tenure, as of last November, Democrats lost well over 900 seats in state legislatures across the country, 12 governorships, 69 House seats, 13 Senate seats, as Rory Cooper points out. Obama is popular in spite of his policies, not because of them. He’s popular because he’s likeable, a smooth speaker, a crafter of phrases but not winning solutions. None of the personal qualities that place Obama at a 56 percent approval rating apply to Hillary: she’s stiff, robotic, unlikable, calculating. And her solutions are the same as Obama’s.
5. Obama Lied About What He’s Done To America. Most of all, President Obama hearkened back to his 2004 Democratic National Convention patter about red states and blue states and the United States. He said, “I see Americans of every party, every background, every faith who believe that we are stronger together, black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, young, old, gay, straight, men, women, folks with disabilities, all pledging allegiance, under the same proud flag, to this big, bold country that we love.” But Obama’s spent years dividing Americans from one another – gays against straights, blacks against whites, women against men. He doesn’t get to trot out onstage now and proclaim America unified. Obama said of America, “Our power doesn't come from some self-declared savior promising that he alone can restore order as long as we do things his way. We don't look to be ruled. Our power comes from those immortal declarations first put to paper right here in Philadelphia all those years ago.” I’m old enough to remember a man who told Americans that his election would cause oceans to recede. The America Obama talked to last night is the America he tried to destroy.
So Obama’s speech won’t help Hillary. Instead, it will just draw the contrast between him and her one last time – and she doesn’t benefit from that. She’s a corrupt old crone, and that’ll be clear when she takes the stage tonight, trying to follow the act of a man deified by the media and worshipped by Hillary’s own base. It’s never easy following an idol.