In the absence of eloquence and charisma of their own and even lacking in good ideas, it’s exactly what the GOP would love to see Obama do. In fact, it’s the whole point of their attacks, to scare Obama into running from his strengths rather than playing to them. It’s a clever strategy that has served them well in the past.
But there’s one pundit – and a conservative at that – who gets it right and tells it honestly. It’s Michael Gerson. His advice to Obama is to exceed all expectations and not squander the moment. Here’s his suggestion:
Obama seems to have embraced the conventional wisdom: "I'm not aiming for a lot of high rhetoric," he said Monday. "I'm much more concerned with communicating how I intend to help middle-class families live their lives. . . . This is going to be a more workmanlike speech."And more:
That would be a blunder of historic proportions, precisely because Obama has been given a unique historical moment. He will fill it with significance or eventually be filled with regret.
Obama is advised to emphasize middle-class economic themes, as all recent Democrats have done. But to make a speech that will outlive the moment, he should also address America's deeper divisions based on wealth and opportunity, rooted in slavery and segregation, hidden behind highway sound barriers, revealed in crises such as Katrina, forgotten in a politics where only the middle class seems to count. Inequality is inseparable from liberty in a society that rewards striving -- but inequality becomes morally unjustifiable in the absence of economic mobility. America cannot accept the existence of a permanent underclass without altering its defining ideals. If Obama doesn't confront this reality -- given his background and aspirations of unity and justice -- it is hard to imagine that it will ever be confronted.So, why should Obama listen to Gerson and not those others? Mostly because Michael Gerson is one of the most talented speech writers of his generation. He had the unenviable job of making George W. Bush look articulate and he did it splendidly. Also, now that he’s a columnist, he’s giving honest advice. I don’t always agree with Mr. Gerson on issues but I respect his integrity. And he’s telling the truth now.
Obama can make all these points with added power because he is part of a great moral story involving aspiration, faith and the struggle for racial equality. It is the story of lives and wages stolen by fraud and violence, of families broken at the auction block, of millions who died with their hopes unfulfilled, of millions who never abandoned hope. The story of self-evident truths greater than the flawed men who put them to paper and of courageous men and women who claimed those promises in fact and in law.