I attended a panel today on political speeches at The New America Foundation moderated by  Steve Coll with Michael A. Cohen, James Pinkerton, and Jeremy Rosner. Rosner had probably the best point of the day. He said that the problem with McCain's speeches is that he hasn't figured out a political strategy yet:

"I think John McCain faces a deeper problem than staff shakeups which is that he hasn't figured out a political strategy. ... A lot of people have noted he's just very incoherently between the right and the center, between offshore drilling and $300 million prizes for new electric batteries. ... He just hasn't figured out a strategy for being a presidential candidate. My advice is that he needs to sort of place a clear bet on whether he's trying to do another Karl Rove base consolidation strategy or whether he's truly trying to gun for the middle and change the Republican party -- he just hasn't figured that out. Until he does that he's not going to solve the sense of inauthenticity that he's suddenly stumbled into, he's not going to solve the staff shakeups and everything else."

Cohen agreed:

"If I were to ask all of you here 'What is Barack Obama's key message for his campaign?' most of you could probably could answer pretty quickly, I'm assuming you would say change. If I asked you all the same question about John McCain's campaign message I'm seeing a lot of blank faces. It's a much harder question to answer and I think that's a key problem. I don't think he has a clear message of why he wants to be president or what he wants his presidency to entail."

And if all those faces were blank at a think tank, imagine how many more there would be at any political rally. Obama, for all his much-vaunted speaking ability, is really successful for a much simpler reason than most people realize: He actually has something to say.

--Daniel Strauss