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The big news in online politics is the number of people who watched Obama’s Philadelphia speech on race. What gets lost in the buzz, however, is the fact that Obama was doing something politicians have been doing since the flowering of Athenian democracy thousands of years ago. He gave a speech. It’s not clear to me what makes that so strategically groundbreaking,

At any rate, it’s ironic to see people touting a political speech as something of substance. It’s nice that people were willing to tune in. But the buzz speaks more to our hunger for substance rather than its actual existence on our plate. A speech is primarily rhetoric delivered from the top down.

A speech during a political campaign is exactly that. Sure, Obama is different and striving to rise above politics as usual. But even that is a well-worn theme. It works for him because he is fresh, young and neither a Clinton nor a Bush. Plus he is an undeniably effective speechifier. So was Bill Clinton. And so have been countless other politicians whose names and deeds we have long forgotten.

One source of amazement is that people tuned in to Obama’s speech for SO LONG!!! But plenty of vapid movies last even longer, and people sit through those, too.

So I am unpersuaded that length=substance or even says much about the average American’s attention span. I have a feeling it is under-rated by media types, who likely have more trouble focusing than people in lines of work that require more patience and concentration. Like surgery or carpentry or truck-driving.

The true test for Obama will come if and when he becomes president. Great speeches helped put Bill Clinton in the White House, but they didn’t help him in 1994. Change is hard. People think they want it more than they’re actually willing to embrace it in reality, especially if it means any kind of sacrifice or even a simple trade-off. Words only go so far.