Nights two and three, the DNC, Philadelphia.
Again, on Tuesday, standard issue convention appearances: stars of stage, screen, and film; athletes; policemen; “first responders”; and new subsets – mothers of children killed in our streets; the disabled; survivors of 9/11. Madeleine Albright. All leading to what was widely anticipated as The Speech, Bill Clinton’s story-telling.
We don’t happen to be among the millions who adore Mr. Clinton, nor do we think he’s the finest public speaker in politics today. Naturally, his role is changing. If Hillary wins, he’ll be forced into back alleys and shadows. The opposition will be on the lookout for any sign of his meddling in affairs of state. And as commentators are fond of pointing out, when Mr. Clinton has little or nothing to do, he reflexively opts for involvement, welcome or not, which too often leads to trouble. (The latest example: his ex tempore visit to the Attorney General of the United States just before Mr. Comey’s FBI report.)
To walk in his shoes for a moment: when one has been lionized as well as having been seated in the most powerful chair in the world, it’s more or less natural to begin to believe in one’s own hyper-value. Who wouldn’t want to talk with a former President about life? How welcome and important he must feel wherever he goes.
In one way, he did surprise the auditorium. He spoke nostalgically and in a quiet voice about his courtship of his wife and their early years together. But he began with tales from 1971 and slowly, s-l-o-w-l-y, worked his way forward. Not everyone was mesmerized. His insights into Hillary’s character – determination, independence, her clear and steady focus on children – were reprised from every other earlier speaker, and many who followed.
Adopting the color and rhyme of the backwoods, Bill told one story after another. His confidence that Hillary is prepared for the Oval Office is real and probably accurate. But how much more riveting the stories of Hillary as a Senator without Bill more than tangentially involved. These encomiums came on Night Three, and from unimpeachable sources…men and women who were there in the room when directions were chosen and decisions made.
On Night 3, we began to hear from heavier hitters, men and women unafraid to take Donald Trump on directly, to point out his bizarre inconsistencies and his unwillingness to specify how so many of his promises might come to pass.
The first shots fired came from a retired admiral who said simply that Trump wasn’t good enough to clean John McCain’s boots. He said more, of course, but his slice-and-dice impact was the first hard-edged saber rattle. (Earlier with Pat Brown and Chris Murphy, other important topics surfaced, from gun control measures to climate change.)
Better known weaponry followed. Leon Panetta raked Trump, praised Hillary, and had to keep fighting the crowd which began chanting “No More War.” Michael Bloomberg, a far from enchanting personality, spoke clearly to the Independents in the country, one of the more thoughtful approaches to seducing unmoored voters towards Hillary.
Tim Kaine followed. Our own reaction was that on paper he looked better than in person. One commentator later said that his was the perfect vice-president’s speech. Perhaps. But it felt to some of us light-weight, overly cute, again country boy stuff, until he finally lowered the boom on the Republican nominee. We are certainly willing to believe that somewhere in his character is gravitas befitting a man so newly close to the seat of ultimate power. And we accept Mrs. Clinton’s feeling of security with him at her side. She must know.
Joe Biden was at his best, and for our money, The Speaker of the evening, apart from Mr. Obama who followed him. Warm but grave, Biden both warned and simultaneously lifted up. The affection in which he and his family are held is genuine and well-earned.
Mr. Obama brought to the microphone the optimism and realism for which he is known. And he was able to disarm his critics, especially those (like ourselves) who faulted him over the Syrian “Red Line.” His instinctive caution mixed with an adult’s ability to weigh and measure – regardless of the outcome – has largely convinced American voters that his was a job well done.
And at Hillary’s appearance and shared embrace, the future (it seemed) came into clear focus.
One sidebar worth mentioning. Last Friday, in The New York Times, Paul Krugman presented readers with a new conspiracy theory: that Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin were far too close to helping each other achieve long-sought goals, one on the American political trail and the other eager to see NATO broken in order to perhaps make grabs for the organization’s smaller members along his border.
We were stunned. Krugman is, and has been for years, nothing but sober.
But his ears had caught distant rumbles of collusion.
We’re not ready to believe whole-heartedly in his theory, but Mr. Trump is doing everything he can to convince us.
And so, finally, we come to Hillary R. Clinton.
As a teenager, we were wont to say “Jeez!”