What Didn't Work

Peggy Noonan has been on a roll lately. She represents to me the kind of Reagan Democrat who is able and willing to hear a black Democratic candidate out - even if on some policies he isn't as conservative as she (or I) would like - and who understands that most Americans, whatever the consultants say, are still interested in intelligent, educated, thoughtful discourse. Her take on Obama's historic speech this week is excellent, and its critique is sharp:

Near the end of the speech, Mr. Obama painted an America that didn't summon thoughts of Faulkner but of William Blake. The bankruptcies, the dark satanic mills, the job loss and corporate corruptions. There is of course some truth in his portrait, but why do appeals to the Democratic base have to be so unrelievedly, so unrealistically, bleak?

This connected in my mind to the persistent feeling one has -- the fear one has, actually -- that the Obamas, he and she, may not actually know all that much about America. They are bright, accomplished, decent, they know all about the yuppie experience, the buppie experience, Ivy League ways, networking. But they bring along with all this -- perhaps defensively, to keep their ideological views from being refuted by the evidence of their own lives, or so as not to be embarrassed about how nice fame, success, and power are -- habitual reversions to how tough it is to be in America, and to be black in America, and how everyone since the Reagan days has been dying of nothing to eat, and of exploding untreated diseases. America is always coming to them on crutches.

But most people didn't experience the past 25 years that way. Because it wasn't that way. Do the Obamas know it?

That's why I think Pennsylvania is an opportunity for him. The most tired element, and the least refreshing aspect, of his message so far is a resort to left bromides about the grim facts of American life in the last twenty years or so. There are problems, real problems. Inequality, fostered by globalization, has left many Americans treading water at best. But the vitality of the economy, the astonishing creativity of American industry, especially in tech and pharmaceuticals, the miracle of the Internet, the relative cheapness of items like food and clothing that once consumed far more of the average American's expenses - these are also integral to the picture. Obama hasn't conveyed this complicated picture - perhaps because of the primary season. But he should. America needs hope. But it is not currently hopeless. And its recent past, despite the disasters of the past eight years, has had as many highs as lows.