Days one through three have set the table, but they won’t necessarily matter as the convention memories recede. It’s the candidate who counts. On Day 1, it was Michelle Obama who shone. She gave a terrific speech, beautifully delivered, heartfelt and authentic, down to earth while still uplifting. A real home run.
On Day 2, Bill Clinton hit a double with no one on. Bill Clinton has always been a great story-teller (“I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.”) What he left out on Tuesday was more interesting that what he put in. He glossed over his womanizing and humiliation of Hillary with reference to “good times and bad.” I wouldn’t expect him to wallow in it, but I would have appreciated an apology for his transgressions, which have made her life more difficult. Also noteworthy was the oily way he slipped in “There were trade bills, some she voted for; some, against.” She was a full partner with him in NAFTA, and her early unqualified support for the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement was an unforced error.
Bill Clinton’s task was to humanize Hillary, and his opening line – “In the spring of 1971, I met a girl” – set the tone effectively. He moved from college girl, to wife, mother and grandmother. He detailed her accomplishments (and there have been many) and chronicled her lifetime as a change agent(an impressive bill of particulars). Importantly, he tried to differentiate the cartoon character created by Donald Trump at last week’s GOP convention and the real Hillary the former President was portraying. The convention, he noted, had nominated the real Hillary. We’ll see tonight what exactly that appears to be.
Day Three was power-packed, with Michael Bloomberg making an effective pitch to independents, Tim Kaine warmly addressing Hillary’s character and reinforcing how he trusts her (even with the life of his Marine son) and Joe Biden straight talking to blue collar and other disaffected white working class males. President Obama concluded with a full-throated pass-the-baton endorsement. When attacking Trump, he exhorted those who would boo the Republican nominee to vote their disapproval instead. Obama also weighed in appropriately on the blacks versus police controversy, noting that what a black mother feels when her son leaves the house isn’t different what the family of a police officer feel when that officer goes to work. Previously speakers have been notably one-sided on that theme.
Obama’s tone was optimistic, reminding us that we can’t fear the future, we have to shape it. Among his many references to Trump, the President said we don’t look to be ruled. We seek to work together. (Tell that to our gridlocked Congress and our starkly divided electorate.)
Previous speakers set the table with their best things, the good dishes, silver and china, but it won’t matter if what Hillary serves tonight is less than stellar. She has to convince voters how, beyond being uniquely qualified, she can connect with real people and their concerns. Beyond being declared by others to be a change maker, she must demonstrate that, in a “change election” (when 60 percent believe the country is on the wrong track), she is not just the latest iteration of the status quo. Dare we hope she apologizes for mistakes made and commits herself to rebuilding people’s trust in her? The fact that it is a serial liar and pathological narcissist against whom she is running gives her some room to do so.
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