One more piece about President Obama's speech the other night, because it hasn't been mentioned anywhere.
Near the end, he changed his speaking style. Obama has always been great for the big occasions, noble stentorian tones inspiring millions. But in a small room he's not the best speaker in the world. Not even best in his own bed.
When he spoke of Ted Kennedy, the President adopted the speaking style of his wife, Michelle. I have only seen her speak a few times, during the campaign, and she is great in a small room. She is intimate, she is passionate. If I were on trial for my life I'd want her defending me, not her husband, because she can sway a jury.
An important talent for a great writer, a great comic, a great athlete or a great politician is to steal someone else's moves. Michael Jordan did that. By the end of his career he was doing Karl Malone's leaning-back jumper better than Malone did it, and more effectively.
So in using his wife's voice, Barack Obama paid her a great compliment. She's just as good a lawyer as he is, just as well trained and well educated, yet she has deliberately kept herself in the role of First Lady. It's not beneath her, she tells us by that. And she's great at it.
The section on Kennedy was something you knew had to come in this speech. His death, so close to Senate votes on health reform, is still being mourned. Liberals remember how their mourning of Paul Wellstone was hijacked by Republicans to elect Norm Coleman, and the President could not let that happen again.
So he toned it down. He made the room small. He lowered his voice and spoke intimately about the man, about his dreams, and about his cause. He defended liberalism with unusual eloquence, even for him, and you could hear a pin drop.
He even used words Michelle would use, starting with "the character of our country." Notice how he makes it personal. Notice how he speaks well of specific Republicans. Notice, too, how he disarms without backing off his points.
I watched the speech on TV, and the main shot is always of the President with the Speaker and Vice President behind. Biden kept looking down, Pelosi did her thousand-yard stare, but inside you could tell they were both working very hard not to cry. Barack Obama inspires, but he doesn't make you cry. Michelle does.
It reminded me of the old Marx Brothers movies. All the yelling, all the sight gags, all the verbal interplay, and then somewhere in the middle Chico would noodle on the piano to make you smile, then Harpo would bring his harp out and make you cry. That's what Michelle's speaking style is like, a harp. And when the section was finished people were thinking. Even Joe Wilson was thinking.
By adopting his wife's voice, Barack Obama made himself a better speaker, and gave a better speech, than any President has from the well of the House in many years. It may, indeed, be enough to get some form of health care reform passed. Not everything we want, but enough to build on.
All thanks to Michelle.