By Dan Gerstein
From my dual-hatted perspective as a speechwriter and a political strategist, President Obama's speech Thursday at Cooper Union on financial reform was a near tonal masterpiece — precisely calibrated for his multiple audiences and his political objectives.
The president did not come to the belly of the bull to push or persuade. He has already won the larger fight — Wall Street and their Republican defenders in Congress have lost any hope of killing the Democrats' bill, and there will be serious financial reform passed in the next few weeks. So Obama was there largely to begin negotiating the terms of the surrender, and in particular, to maximize his advantage in those endgame discussions of the bill's contested details.
The best way to do that: to own the reasonable center, define the parameters of acceptability, and marginalize the outliers. Extend your hand to your opponents inside as well as outside the room and give them the face-saving space to meet you halfway, while simultaneously showing your spine to those who continue to resist the inevitable.
Viewed through that prism, Obama's rhetoric was multiple missions accomplished. He was statesman-like, well-reasoned in his argurments, genuinely respectful of the hometown crowd without being obsequious, and perhaps most important of all, acutely mindful of the legislative context.
The president didn't need to score political points — he needed to strengthen his field position. And by resisting the temptation to replay the blame game, artfully connecting the shared fate of Wall Street and Main Street, and clearly communicating his policy bottom lines, the Speechifier-in-Chief did just that. In the process, he reminded us why he's the best in the business at the rhetorical balancing act today's politics demands more than ever.
© 2008 Gotham Ghostwriters, All rights reserved.