My favorite scene in Steven Vincent Benet’s story, The Devil and Daniel Webster—as you might expect—is when the Devil’s handpicked jury listens to Webster plead for his client’s life. To the Devil’s astonishment and fury, they find for Jabez Stone.
“Even the damned,” says the foreman defiantly to his boss, “may salute the eloquence of Mr. Webster.”
That’s why, when Barack Obama finished last night, I immediately turned to the Fox News jury. They didn’t disappoint. “Brilliant,” said the dyspeptic former speechwriter Charles Krauthammer, sounding unhappy but giving Obama his due.
It was brilliant. I have to confess: I feel uneasy doing what I’m supposed to do in this piece: talk about whether Obama succeeded or failed—and how he achieved either. It diminishes Obama’s achievement to point to a particularly skillful piece of concrete detail, or the pauses that gave us the illusion that he was actually thinking.
He made me cry about six times. Don’t you hate those people who are walking up the aisle after hearing a great violinist talking about his bowing arm or great spiccato?
Still, that’s the assignment. So, for the record, this was an immensely skillful speech, written, delivered, and orchestrated with equal skill.