Under pressure to deliver "the speech of her life," Hillary Clinton not only delivered, she seemed to relish it. Here is why.
No matter what the delegate count is, Robert’s Rules of Order
is clear on one point: nothing is actually signed, sealed, and delivered until
the candidate says, “Yes, I accept your nomination for President of the United
Perhaps that is why, for this observer, it was at that moment and that moment only
that the wave of history finally crashed on shore. I paused to think of the
people who are no longer with us who would have so relished the moment, but not the
obvious names – Eleanor Roosevelt or Susan B. Anthony. Rather, I thought about the
women who showed up every day, at home or at an office; whether it be those who
taught our children, fought in our military, or who entered our workplaces and
made them become better, more fair, more open, and more accepting. For them,
and for all of us, Hillary Clinton’s acceptance of her party’s nomination is,
alone, a magnificent milestone.
What followed for me, however, was the further reflection
that the state of our national discourse is so profoundly soiled that it had
not even occurred to Jabba-the-Trump to
even briefly acknowledge in the course of his one hour standing blovation that history that would soon be made by the
opposition party. Even if the raw Machiavelli in him had made such a gesture
for political gain in a shameless pander to the female audience that he must
win over, it nevertheless would have had a startling impact. Indeed, it could
have been the one thing people remembered from his infamous “Heart of Darkness”
speech. Once upon a time, the opposing candidates carried, at worst, a grudging respect
for each other, usually born of years in Washington that caused paths to cross
and required cooperation and personal relationship. Let the First Anger Games
Last night was, indeed, hyooooge for the Democratic Party. More than anything else, it was
the night the Democrats went brazenly on
the offensive, aggressively making a play for perceptual leadership in
traditional Republican strongholds. Most notably, the Democrats made a direct
run at positioning their candidate as the vastly more qualified
Commander-in-Chief, highlighted by the ramrod tough, take-no-prisoners,
full-throttle bark of a retired four star Marine general. And, at a decibel count less than half of the
General but perhaps twice the impact, the father of a Muslim soldier who
sacrificed his life for his fellow American soldiers publicly shamed The Donald
by reaching into his lapel pocket and offering Trump his own personal copy of
In our assessment of Donald Trump’s acceptance speech and
the entire Republican Convention, we expressed mild amazement at the utter
absence of effort to reach beyond the red-meat base and make a case to the
undecided vote. The entire Republican
strategy was to energize the base to get out and vote.
In contrast, the Democrats seemed to have intentionally
created a strategic sequence and pace to gradually expand their appeal over the
full four days of their convention. Monday was clearly devoted to the sole task
of unifying the party, led by unifier-in-chief Michelle Obama, who was followed
on the stage by the two most ardent champions of the progressive left –
Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. But
by Tuesday, the pivot had begun, and Bill Clinton’s warm personal portrayal
of his wife started the turn toward undecided voters. On Wednesday, Michael
Bloomberg overtly announced that his message was targeted beyond the arena to
undecided voters at home.
On Thursday night, the Democrats handed the microphone to
notable Republicans who had opted to support Clinton over Trump. Doug Elmets,
former official in Reagan’s White House, jauntily channeled Lloyd Bentsen: “I
knew Ronald Reagan. Donald Trump, you are no Ronald Reagan!”
Further still: Democrats as a rule are a little squishy
about this whole church and state thing, right? Dating back to when John F.
Kennedy needed to reassure voters that there would be no hot line to the
Vatican, through secularists like McGovern, Mondale, Dukakis, Gore, and Kerry,
the Dems have generally ceded all the fire and brimstone to Team Red. Indeed, Barack Obama had to publicly disown the Reverend Jeremiah
Wright. When Democrats talk about religion, it is generally to acknowledge that
there are a lot of them, to say that they love them all, and then to move on as quickly as possible.
Well, this party may be led by a grandmother, but this is
not your grandmother’s Democratic Party. This one saved a nice
ripe time slot on Thursday night for Protestant Minister William Barber II, pastor
of the Greenleaf Christian Disciples of Christ Church in Goldsboro, North Carolina. With a hunched intensity and oratorical skills that approach Dr. King
himself, Reverend Barber made a surprisingly aggressive case that religion is
now being manipulated and contorted to support political and economic ends.
“Faith is used to justify hate and greed… religion is used to camouflage
meanness.” This is a whole new chapter in the Democratic playbook.
And, to leave no stone unturned, the Democrats
introduced Sheriff Lupe Valdez of Dallas County, Texas, who addressed the
support of her city for the police force in the wake of the horrific shootings.
The Democrats had taken a calculated risk, in that on Tuesday they had prominently
featured the “Mothers of the Movement” – mothers of African American children
slain in incidents of questionable police action and random gun violence –
without appearing at the time to offer equal solace to the grieving families of
murdered police. Introducing Sheriff
Valdez on Thursday night – to the far larger audience – appeared to be a
carefully scripted part of the “pivot.”
As if to nail once and for all just how brilliantly this
convention had been stage-managed, it was at exactly 10:03 – just after the
broader network audiences had kicked in – that Chelsea Clinton stepped to the
podium. Much will be made of the “Battle
of the High Powered Daughters Introducing their Parent, Candidate for
President!” I am sure that there is some
Reddit sub-realm totally devoted to that topic, and yet I find myself
uninterested in forcing that comparison. In an election where we are finally
feeling a triumph of women’s rights, the very idea that the two candidates were
each introduced by high-achieving, charismatic, independent, and articulate
daughters should be cause for joy, not reason to trigger a Trumpian Miss Daughter of the Candidate Pageant.
If there’s any comparison to be made, the more
interesting one is between Chelsea and Bill on Hillary. For all Bill did to
fill in a picture of a side of Hillary that we did not know, it was still very
much a tale of an incredibly dedicated idealistic woman who relentlessly
pursues justice, fairness, and equal opportunity. But it was Chelsea Clinton who managed to
convey her mother’s full capacity for warmth, humor, caring, devotion, and uncompromising
love. For everyone who has ever tucked
in an eighteen-month old with “good
night, noises, everywhere,” left a
note for their child while reluctantly heading to the airport, or FaceTimed
with a grandchild, Chelsea conveyed an authentic picture of a deeply committed and
When Chelsea cued the mandatory video bio, it appeared
that even God was endorsing Hillary
Clinton. Surely it was God’s will
that Morgan Freeman would play Him in Bruce
Almighty, so Hillary’s media crew followed suit in their selection of a narrator. And nobody does God like Morgan Freeman.
And yet, I must admit that some days I think it must be
unbearably hard to be Hillary Clinton. In fact, pretty much on all those days
that end with “y.”
Consider how long this woman has stood in Teddy
Roosevelt’s arena, the slings and arrows of routine fortune that greet her
daily, the exceptionally public airings of her humiliation relative to the
private, sotto voce nature of her
greatest diplomatic achievements, the zealotry with which Republicans chant “Benghazi”
as if any of their tribunals had actually uncovered wrongdoing; would not all
that indeed be enough – only to find
that in delivering the single most important speech of her life, she must
follow the two greatest public orators in generations?
Hillary Clinton picked a good night to give the best
speech of her life. She is not a Barack Obama or even an aging Bill Clinton, so, cleverly, she did not try to be.
We have said throughout our assessments of the debates,
speeches, and impromptu media moments of this campaign that for all the words
that may be spoken, television audiences take their cue from what they see. Television is a visual medium.
What people saw last night was a relaxed, confident, and very driven woman who appeared to be
relishing her upcoming battle with Donald Trump. Smiling frequently, she
allowed the humor we’ve been told about so often but so rarely witnessed to
score direct hits on the Twit-Wit
In the single quote that will spin for the full
news-cycle, Clinton said, “A man you can
bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.” Hey,
Hill: you can drop the mic on that one from now until November.
Chekov famously said that “If you say in the first
chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third
chapter it absolutely must go off.” Though that might appear to be the slogan
of the NRA, it was actually a comment on the vital need for writers to plan
narrative structure, and it is keenly relevant in assessing the Democratic
Convention. Only on Thursday night did we realize how the events of Monday,
Tuesday, and Wednesday were in large measure rifles carefully hung on the wall
that Hillary Clinton would reach for in her address. One by one, they went off.
The core narrative, for example, has been about caring
for our children. It is Hillary’s self-professed life’s work.
Thursday night, we found out why. Her own mother had been
horribly abandoned as a child, left alone to make itin the world. From that
came Hillary Clinton's ferocious determination to lead a life of ensuring that no child should
endure that same fate.
Perhaps even more significantly, we learned of an
incident in Hillary Clinton’s own childhood that may carry still greater
significance. We all can recall traumatic events – some truly large, some
merely fearsome in the perception at that moment – that are deeply etched in
our earliest memory. For Hillary, it was a moment when she was four years old
and retreated back into her household in fear of bullies who had scared
her outside. Once back inside, she had encountered her mother, who told her
that she had to learn to deal with bullies. Her mother stiffened her resolve
and sent her back outside.
Suddenly, the light bulb went on. We realized that Donald
Trump is that bully – that in him, she
sees that horrible bully who frightened her when she was four, and every oppressive tyrant she has encountered since.
And now she cannot wait to take the fight back to him. She
cannot wait. On behalf of every girl,
every child, every underprivileged person who has ever been forced to submit to
arrogance, unfair advantage, and oppression, she cannot wait to fight Donald Trump.
Though she only mentioned his name a few times, this
speech was, in aggregate, a broadside at Donald Trump. It was a warning that in
his style and attitude going forth, he best beat a hasty retweet. The sub-text of Hillary’s fierce warning was plain to see:
“You can bully that anemic bunch of patrician blowhards, all-hat-no-cattle
cowboys, and prissy posers you stepped on in your Republican debates, but now
you are going to be dealing with me.”
Donald Trump may be an open book: overtly hostile, bad-tempered, and overtly cruel to
others. But, beneath the surface, Hillary Clinton is also seething, though it is compartmentalized
and focused like a laser beam. The First Anger Games have indeed begun, and the battle has been joined.
Selecting her weapon of choice, Hillary took the time to
spell out her very specific policy proposals, often drawing the comparison with
Trump’s undefined or ill-defined plans to “make America great again.” In
another elegant jab of wit, she noted how long Trump had spoken without
offering any real, concrete, substantive plans of action. “He spoke for
seventy-odd minutes,” she said. Beat. “And
I do mean odd. He doesn’t like talking about his plan.”
Point by point, Clinton put flesh to her plan to battle
ISIS, her investments in job creation and infrastructure, and to ensure that “Wall
Street will never wreck Main Street again.” Moreover, she rammed home that she
had specific, detailed plans for how she would pay for the proposals she was
To close, Clinton went back once again to that gift that
just keeps giving… Donald Trump’s own wondrous quotes. In truth, Hillary played a bit fast and
loose with a Trump quote when she attributed to him the line “I alone can fix
it.” In fairness, it was actually part of a large quote about Trump’s
assessment that the “system is broken.” Here, via Politico, is Trump’s quote in its full context:
- "I have joined the political arena so that the powerful can no
longer beat up on people who cannot defend themselves. Nobody knows the system
better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.”
The woman who insisted that “it takes a village” took
Trump’s partial sentence and drove it across the Ben Franklin Bridge, up the Schuykill
River, and back downtown past the Billy Penn statue. Only Donald Trump can do it, all by himself.
In Hillary Clinton’s world view, no one can make it
Not the child abandoned by her parents.
Not the immigrants, not the targets of racism, not those singled out for religious persecution, not the
victims of gender discrimination, not those oppressed by dictators, not the
people ostracized for who they love, and not the four year old terrified by the
That, she declared, is her battle. That, she explained, is her life’s work. That people,
unified in common purpose, can work together to solve the most difficult,
intractable problems. That people, working together, can achieve that more perfect union based on the truth that all people are created equal.That every child has the right and the opportunity to fulfill their God-given potential. It was a heck of a speech, and it was delivered with passion and authenticity often not associated with Hillary Clinton.
When she closed, more balloons fell than there will be
shards when the biggest glass ceiling finally falls.
Will that happen in November?
You know that four-year-old?
I’m with her.