Did He Deliver? Grading Obama’s DNC Speech

Blogging the Beltway: The president had to nail four key points to get an A for his nomination speech.

Obama (Getty Images)
Obama (Getty Images)

(The Root) — On Thursday night President Obama was tasked with delivering the most important speech of his tenure in office. With polls showing the 2012 presidential election increasingly close, many experts intimated that he needed to hit a home run just to stay in the game. Though widely hailed as one of the greatest orators ever to occupy the White House, the president had his work cut out for him. His approval rating regarding his handling of the economy and unemployment recently hit an all-time low. But beyond his approval rating, the president faced three formidable obstacles in his quest to be seen as the king of the convention speeches: his wife, his Democratic predecessor and himself.

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver joked in a conversation with The Root that if the Democratic National Convention had ended after Michelle Obama exited the stage, the president’s re-election would have been sealed that night. But just when you thought no one else could rev up the Democratic crowd the way she did, the following night former President Bill Clinton captivated the audience and critics — for nearly an hour. Both were extremely tough acts to follow, but neither is a tougher act to follow than Barack Obama himself.

Since his speech before the 2004 Democratic National Convention made him a national star, it has come to be expected that any speech Barack Obama makes will at the very least be a good speech, but more likely will be a great one. It is simply accepted as fact that just as the sky is blue, President Barack Obama is incapable of giving a bad speech, which means the bar is much higher for this president when it comes to convention speeches than it would be for many others. This week The Root interviewed experts regarding what President Obama needed to do to deliver a winning speech. Below is a report card of how he did on four key challenges if we apply the wisdom they shared.

TASK 1: White men are supporting his opponent. He needed to woo some of them back.

The backstory: The president has a problem, specifically a white guy problem. He is trailing his opponent, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, by nearly 30 points among white men without college degrees, and also trailing among college-educated white males by double digits.

The speech: Every time the president referenced the auto industry in his speech he wasn’t talking to car lovers. He was speaking directly to the working class. Many of those blue-collar workers who rely on the auto industry for jobs are working-class white males. His repeated references to manufacturing jobs were a direct appeal to those workers.


TASK 2: Voters like him, but the president needed to convince more of them to trust him, specifically his competence on managing the economy.

The backstory: Polls show voters like him personally but do not like his handling of the economy. He needed to make the case that he has an economic plan that will work if he’s given a second term to make it work.