Here is what's unusual about the lineup of Democratic convention speeches. Usually each convention features one very strong speech, sometimes two. Barbara Jordan with the keynote at the Democratic convention in 1976. Teddy Kennedy with his memorable (though damaging to Jimmy Carter) "the dream will never die" speech in 1980, bidding farewell to his presidential aspirations. Ronald Reagan speaking to Barry Goldwater's supporters at the Cow Palace in San Francisco in 1964, beginning his own presidential aspirations. Barack Obama serving a similar function in 2004.
I don't know of any parallel to what just happened for the Democrats in Denver, where a series of speakers all performed at the top of their form, notably:
- Hillary Clinton, doing as much for "party unity" as she plausibly could, with her best delivered speech of the whole campaign cycle;
- Bill Clinton, reminding everyone in the party (and much of the country) of why he had won two terms; giving Barack Obama an implicit lesson on how to cast the choice in this election; and erasing in 30 minutes 98% of the problems he had created for himself in his party over the previous year;
- John Kerry, speaking with an intense, tough, terse contempt for Bush administration policies that would have gotten him elected four years ago;
- Al Gore, like Kerry liberated from any previous starchiness by contempt for Bush-Cheney and by knowing he has nothing more to prove;
- Michelle Obama, who in terms of presenting herself and her husband for the election could not have been more cannily effective -- and appealing;
- And of course Barack Obama himself, who showed his own canniness in using his familiar oratorical virtuosity in an unfamiliar way, with a specific, by-name, respectful contempt for the ideas of John McCain. Respect for the serivce of John McCain; contempt for his record.
Joe Biden is an honorary member of the list. His speech was the one slightly-short-of-expectations moment among the big speakers, but its very artlessness probably added to its political effectiveness in the long run.
This has never happened before. Usually there are a number of obvious turkeys among the big-kahuna speakers. This time, the biggest names came in facing very tough tests (how will Bill and Hillary behave? How can Obama re-position himself?) and very high expectations. They aced the tests and beat the expectations in every case.
John McCain's speechwriters have one thing going for them at the moment: a week to look over what the Dems have said and work out a response.