I missed all the fun around here and over at Ffb, and I also missed most of the Democratic convention, because I was at a convention of my own - listening to a lot of political scientists talk.
Unsurprisingly, election politics didn't come up very often at panels, but the last paper on one panel I went to was a reading of Obama, particularly through the lens of The Audacity of Hope (be on the lookout to see the written version of this paper appear in Harpers in a few weeks). It did surprise me a bit that after this paper was given the entire discussion focused directly on Obama.
It was mostly critical (but more in the 'we're worried he'll lose' mood than the, 'we don't like him' kind) and it was almost entirely centered on Obama the person, Obama the politician, Obama the democratic nominee.
This discussion was carried out after Obama gave his speech. The speech was on Tivo waiting for me, but I hadn't seen it yet. So I sat in the room listening to everyone talk, repeatedly thinking: 'they really don't get it, do they; it's not about Obama in this way'. It's about (the possibility of) a new political moment. It's about all those new participants in the process. It's about the demos, not Obama.
Last night I watched the speech, and, of course, as you all know, Obama spelled it out by saying, literally, 'it's not about me'. And the scene of almost 80,000 people, some moved to tears and all jubilant and energized to a degree that I have simply never seen in my lifetime - this scene made that point for Obama.
More striking was the post-speech commentary on MSNBC. First Keith Olbermann described the power and historical importance of the speech in a way that only Olbermann can. Then Chris Matthews came on and sounded like he was just a few degrees away from tears. Later, Pat Buchanan had to be cut off becuase he was gushing so much about the speech. Throughout, the commentators kept going to the text and reading quotes and citing things, like they were academics or something. And the entire discourse was about the nation, about political action, about choices and possibilities; almost none of it was about political baseball.
Even if Obama loses, I'll never forget how the power of his words forced even the pundits to think about politics as something more than petty games of power and influence and to recognise a possibility for a democratic movement, for collective action, for what political theorists often like to call 'the political'.
How is it then that the day after this speech was given a bunch of political theorists sat around and talked about 'Obama' as if all that mattered was his political calculations? How is it Pat Buchanan and Chris Mathews cared about the words in the speech and some of the most important thinkers of the political did not?