Parsing Obama’s Closing Speech

If you’ve been under a rock for the past year, reading the candidates’ pre-caucus speeches is a good way to catch up. Barack Obama’s “Stand for Change” address summarizes the argument on which his candidacy rests. It’s also chock full of the sly references, opaque allusions, and underhanded sleights we’ve come to expect in the 11th hour. But it might require a little clarification. Here are some excerpts:

I did not run for the presidency to fulfill some long-held ambition or because I believed it was somehow owed to me.  Certainly not as far back as, say, kindergarten .

I believed that Americans of every political stripe were hungry for a new kind of politics, a politics that focused not just on how to win but why we should … Here he targets not just Hillary but the Democratic party itself. Many Democrats criticize the party’s obsession with tactics in place of a driving ideology.

Ten months later, Iowa … You’ve come out in the blistering heat and the bitter cold not just to cheer, but to challenge—to ask the tough questions; to lift the hood and kick the tires … Reminiscent of Christian leader Richard Perry’s endorsement of Rudy Giuliani, in which he likened electing a president to buying a pickup truck.

You’ve earned the role you play in our democracy because no one takes it more seriously.  “Earned,” indeed. After 11 months on the trail, pandering comes as easy as breathing.

[W]e must never negotiate out of fear, but that we must never fear to negotiate with our enemies as well as our friends. Here Obama doubles down on the gamble he took in July, when he said he would sit down with Iran, Syria, and Venezuela without preconditions.

We can’t afford the same politics of fear that … invokes 9/11 as a way to scare up votes … Look out, unnamed hypothetical future GOP nominee/opponent!

The real gamble in this election is playing the same Washington game with the same Washington players and expecting a different result. And that’s a risk we can’t take. Not this year. Not when the stakes are this high. The title of Hillary Clinton’s latest ad: ” Stakes .”

The truth is, you can have the right kind of experience and the wrong kind of experience. Mine is rooted in the real lives of real people and it will bring real results if we have the courage to change. I believe deeply in those words. But they are not mine. They were Bill Clinton’s in 1992, when Washington insiders questioned his readiness to lead.  Both Clintons have tried to diffuse the Bill-Barack parallel, but Obama is sticking with it. That way he gets to be the candidate of change and the heir to Clinton’s legacy.

I walked away from a job on Wall Street to bring job training to the jobless and after school programs to kids on the streets of Chicago. Jives nicely with Obama’s self-burnished rep for telling people—i.e., Wall Street execs—things they don’t want to hear.

It’s change that won’t just come from more anger at Washington or turning up the heat on Republicans. There’s no shortage of anger and bluster and bitter partisanship out there. We don’t need more heat. We need more light.  A direct reference to Hillary’s ” Turn Up the Heat ” slogan.

We can change the electoral math that’s been all about division and make it about addition—about building a coalition for change and progress that stretches through Blue States and Red States. Echoes the best line from Obama’s career-launching 2004 DNC speech: “We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don’t like federal agents poking around our libraries in the red states. We coach little league in the blue states and, yes, we’ve got some gay friends in the red states.”