We are a country that has grown so divided, so rigid in our political differences that we often feel that those with whom we disagree are arbitrarily committed to find the contrarian perspective to just about any opinion –even any fact – that is offered in the public discourse.
If one person says “blue,” the other will say “red;” if person “A” says “up,” person “B” will say, “down, and by the way, who the f--k made you person ‘A’?”
If one individual says “forward,” the other says “back,” if one argues that things are “for the better,” the other is “for worse,” and if a person were to say “black,” the other might say “white, “ although the increasingly au courant response is “blue.”
At this point, 50% of us say “tomato,” and 50% of us say “to-mah-to,” and there’s no Cole Porter to write some new lyric out of this mess. Even the currently configured Supreme Court would be unable to adjudicate on Tomato v. Tomato and the lower court ruling would stand.
Into this nation of premature opinionating, I seek consensus on but one small matter.
America, can we put that divisiveness behind us all and come together as a people on one seemingly incontestable point? I submit, here and now, letting the word go forth, to friend and foe alike, that Bill Clinton did a better job of “humanizing” his spouse than Melania Trump did with hers. Last night, Bill Clinton came out on top in the humanizing race.
Now, mind you, I have no issue with Melania Trump, other than a perhaps primal suspicion about people who have navigated through life based solely on their physical appearance and who casually outsource the act of thinking to flunkies who are in turn empowered to blithely steal ideas from others. Perhaps I quibble. But let’s just say this: if you need a speechwriter to write your reflections about your most intimate, important, and emotional relationship with another human being, the odds are pretty high that the result with be about as authentic as one of those cell phone towers that Verizon tries to disguise as a pine tree.
So last night was the Democrats’ turn to fulfill the relatively recently implemented Convention convention that requires the candidate’s spouse to “humanize” the nominee. It is a troubling, indeed, that this exercise is now considered de rigueur, as it points to an inherent premise that the candidates are not all that human. Who thinks that? Geez, it is precisely the all-too-human frailties of these two self-involved blowhards that earns the more likeable one a mere 28% approval rating.
So on “Humanize-Tuesday” (which comes between “Unify Monday” and “Wonkish Wednesday”), the Democrats gushed about the real Hillary Clinton, the human side of a person they believe we don’t know well despite having unfettered access to 60,000 of her personally-authored emails.
However: the witnesses who came forward last night were individually impressive and, in aggregate, a tour de force. If you spend no other time looking at convention coverage on youtube, check out the live speeches of the “Mothers of the Movement,” the mothers of eight young black people killed by law enforcement officers or in incidents involving our uniquely American culture of AK-47-toting vigilantism. The mothers who spoke were determined to drive change and thereby find purpose in their tragedies; while their words transcended the politics of the moment; their commitment to Hillary Clinton was authentic and moving.
Once again, the Democrats fielded an array of speakers who somehow managed to outshine Republican convention speakers Scott Baio and that lady golfer Natalie Gulbis. (The latter, by the way, is so insignificant that when you google her name, you actually get fewer results than if you google “leprechauns named Tim.”)
In contrast, real-deal stars like Cecile Richards, Tony Goldwyn, Lena Dunham, heroic 9/11 survivor Lauren Manning, Senator Amy Klobuchar, and Madeleine Albright weighed in for Hillary. More importantly, though, each had a clear role: each in turn defined the specific, concrete, actions that Clinton had achieved, be it for Planned Parenthood, 9/11 recovery, the climate change crisis, human trafficking, and the protection and education of children. Indeed, the theme of caring for children was clearly being elevated to the meta-message of the convention and her candidacy.
Throughout, though, the networks knew that the way to keep people from switching over to NCIS Reykjavik was the promise that the Big Dog was just around the corner.
Bill Clinton came on stage after 10:00, looking tentative and a bit gaunt. But the trademarks – biting his lip, left hand half-raised with finger pointing up to make a point – signaled that Bubba was in the house. Game on.
“In the spring of 1971, I met a girl…”
Not a woman, mind you. Not a future Secretary of State. Not a youthful policy-wonk. A girl.
The use of the word served to both convey just how long he has known Hillary Clinton, and that first and foremost theirs was a romantic attraction. Clinton shared the warm story of how they met – it’s what Manhattan trendies now call a “good meet”—and the audience slid back into their seats, no doubt momentarily warmed in the glow of the memory of their own first encounter with their life partner. The crowd settled in for that soothing silky Southern Clinton, happy to par-tay like it was 1999. Bill would go on to speak for the better part of an hour, but for all the testimony he would offer, I suspect you could practically hear Renee Zellweger sighing, “You had me at ‘In the spring of 1971, I met a girl…”
So Bill Clinton told the story of his marriage. Perhaps it was not the version he would have to tell in the confessional, though he did refer to the hardships and difficult periods. But he told a story of flesh and blood, of his attraction to the girl he met in law school, of their courtship, marriage, and parenting, and of endless admiration for her idealism, her values, but most of all, his perception that she has spent a lifetime getting things done.
Bill told the story of the Hillary Clinton he has known since 1971, and how in each and every phase and chapter, Hillary had made positive change happen. He recounted stories of her initiative in identifying problems that needed fixing; her intellect and resolve in identifying solutions, and – most of all – her resourcefulness and relentlessness in making change actually happen.
Whether it was challenging school segregation in the south while still in law school, figuring out how to provide primary care in Arkansas, co-sponsoring legislation to ease adoption with a political arch-rival, or flying all night from Cambodia to help avert open warfare in the Middle East, the stories that Bill Clinton told were real, specific, and reinforced his core narrative… that Hillary Clinton looks for opportunities to effect change, and does the hard work to make it happen.
Perhaps most engaging were the stories Bill Clinton was able to tell about a Hillary Clinton motivated to help, to change, and to fight far before there were cameras and elections. There is, of course, a widely embraced sentiment – cynical, to be sure, but broadly felt -- that everything Hillary Clinton does is scripted and run through a PR machine for political end. Bill Clinton seemed to dwell on the stories from her youth – “In the spring of 1971, I met a girl” – to make the point that his wife’s idealism, commitment, and drive to solve problems was real, native to her being, and far pre-dated that which could ever be portrayed as posturing for cameras.
Toward the end of his remarks, Clinton finally pivoted to the present, and without acrimony, he reflected on the two versions of Hillary Clinton that now exist in our culture. “How does this square with what they said at the Republic convention? One is real, the other is made up. You just have to decide which is which, my fellow Americans.”
From his standpoint, his wife is the “best darn change-maker I have ever met in my entire life. This is a really important point… change is hard…actually doing the work is hard. She has never been satisfied with the status quo in anything; she always wants to move the ball forward. That is just who she is.”
Ok, so it is unfair to compare a squinty-eyed model frozen in front of a teleprompter with a man generally regarded as one of the greatest politicians and communicators of our time, though I can pretty much guarantee you that a startling percentage of Trumpublicans will tell you that they Melania Trump made a better speech than Bill Clinton. It is now past the point at which such questions are actively considered; our country now is set to one gigantic default mechanism that dictates that my team is right and your team sucks, no matter what the question is.
But the question of whether Bill was better than Melania is facetious and utterly irrelevant.
The real question is this: last night did Bill Clinton accomplish what he had to accomplish?
There’s a lovely quote attributed to legendary basketball coach John Wooden: “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.”
Republicans would tell you that Hillary Clinton spends that time feverishly deleted classified emails and making up stories about Benghazi.
Last night, Bill Clinton told America what Hillary Clinton is like, and has always been like, when he, and only he, was watching.
It was a good night for Bill. A good night for Democrats. And for Hillary Clinton, it was the day that she became the first female major party nominee for the Presidency of the United States, the most powerful job on Earth, in history.
And, as a nice little kicker, she got to hear a long list of sweet somethings, perhaps long overdue, from her husband.
So maybe her husband guy ran on at length about how much he admired her, and maybe he gave a few too many examples of the hard work she has done to improve things, large and small.
But, hey, can you blame him?
In the spring of 1971, he met a girl…
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