THE BIG DOG… Looking back at the contentious Democratic presidential primaries, it’s probably fair to say that Bill Clinton didn’t emerge from the process as revered and respected as he was going into the process. His standing in party circles is still arguably without equal, but it’s not where it once was.
That said, watching the maestro at work last night, it became surprisingly easy for Democrats to forget all about the unpleasantness. TNR’s Michael Crowley wrote, “I predict a wave of, ‘Oh, Bill, how can we stay mad at you?’ commentary in the coming days,” which I wholeheartedly endorse.
After the speech, CBS News’ Bob Schieffer wrapped it up nicely: “I love to watch people who can do something really well. You love to see a homerun hitter hit a homerun. You like to see Michael Phelps swim. Bill Clinton knows how to make a political speech. And this was really a classic. He touched all the bases. He was funny. He socked it to the Republicans. He explained his support and the work Hillary Clinton did in her historic race for this. I can’t believe the Obama people could want any more than what they got from Bill Clinton tonight.”
Quite right. Indeed, the former president’s ringing endorsement of Obama, for all of the rumored grudges, seemed entirely unconditional. John Dickerson wrote, “The only way he could have endorsed Obama more enthusiastically is if he’d kissed him.”
Some of the more annoying critiques of Hillary Clinton’s speech suggested she wasn’t explicit enough in arguing that Obama is ready to lead. Bill Clinton didn’t leave any room for doubt: “Barack Obama is ready to lead and restore American leadership in the world. Ready to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. Barack Obama is ready to be president of the United States.” He said Obama’s “proven understanding, insight, and good instincts,” combined with Biden’s “experience and wisdom,” would ensure that “America will have the national security leadership we need.”
Clinton also graciously drew a parallel between Obama and himself: “My fellow Democrats, 16 years ago, you gave me the profound honor to lead our party to victory and to lead our nation to a new era of peace and broadly shared prosperity. Together we prevailed in a campaign in which the Republicans said I was too young and too inexperienced to be commander-in-chief. Sound familiar? It didn’t work in 1992, because we were on the right side of history. And it won’t work in 2008, because Barack Obama is on the right side of history.”
Clinton thoroughly trashed Republicans on practically everything — including, by the way, Katrina and torture, which haven’t been emphasized enough — but was careful not to mention John McCain’s name once. He said Republicans “will nominate a good man…. But on the two great questions of this election, how to rebuild the American Dream and how to restore America’s leadership in the world, he still embraces the extreme philosophy which has defined his party for more than 25 years.”
And the soundbites were just the quintessential Clinton. The world is more impressed with the “power of our example than the example of our power.” Beautiful.
But stepping back from the specifics, Clinton’s speech was a clinic on how to make policy talk sound compelling. As Ezra noted, “The speech he offered could have been a joint release from the Economic Policy Institute and the Center for American Policy foreign affairs department. But somehow, when Clinton reads it, policy slips free of the weighty terms and looping sentences that press it down, and drifts upward to read easily as part of the human condition, engaged with our everyday experience. It’s a remarkable skill, and one that no other current politician possesses.”
Al Gore, for a variety of reasons, decided not to utilize Bill Clinton extensively eight years ago, and John Kerry used him sparingly in 2004. The contentious primary notwithstanding, the Obama campaign would be wise to put Clinton out on the trail extensively this fall.