As the economic meltdown of 2008 continues, some are hearing echoes of the Great Depression. And if this is another 1929, the next president could well be another Franklin Roosevelt. That's what Barack Obama seemed to be aiming for when he said last Friday, "This is not a time for fear. It's not a time for panic. It's a time for resolve and a time for leadership. I know we can steer ourselves out of this crisis, because we have done it before. That's what we do as Americans."
It's beginning to look a lot like 2004, and 2000 before that: a presidential election that is, as Dan Rather used to say, "as hot and tight as a too-tight bathing suit on a too-long car ride back from the beach," with pressure building for the debates that begin Sept. 30. Given how many people watched the conventions, it's a good bet that this year's debates will reverse the downward trend in viewership seen over the years (the last Kennedy-Nixon debate was watched in 61 percent of homes, while only one of the three debates in 2000 cracked 30 percent) and pull in a huge audience.
When John McCain secured his party's nomination at the beginning of this year, many of his admirers in the media offered assurances that because the Republicans had chosen a man of such impeccable integrity, so different from every other politician, this campaign would not be like those we have gotten used to. It would be respectful, it would be substantive, it would be so high-minded and civil as to make Pericles himself weep with joy.
Oh well. "Cultural affinities," wrote the Los Angeles Times at the end of the Republican convention, "are now central to the campaign strategy of GOP presidential nominee John McCain." No kidding.
Barack Obama has given lots of great speeches -- about his personal story, about hope, about change, and about race, to mention a few of his topics. Last week, I asked whether Obama would use his convention speech to offer an argument for progressivism and a critique of conservatism, pointing to a commencement address he gave in 2005 at Knox College as a model.
It's hard to think of a speech that was more eagerly anticipated and subjected to as much prior commentary as the one Barack Obama will deliver tomorrow night at Invesco Field in Denver. Given the track record of Obama and his speechwriters, chances are that the speech will be eloquently written and skillfully delivered, and as it reaches its climax, hearts will swell, goosebumps will rise, and Democrats will find themselves putting aside their cynicism (at least for a while) and hoping for grand things from the next presidency.