Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Bill Hits It Out of the Park


Be honest, you were nervous when you saw Bill Clinton take the stage last night. I know I was. Let’s face it, the last few times he’s been in front of a microphone haven’t gone as well as he or his wife would’ve liked. To say he’s been off script would be an understatement. By comparison, Joe Biden, is practically FDR.

But then the old Bill resurfaced, the same one that gave the speech of his life at the Democratic convention in 2012, back when Barack Obama was fighting for reelection against Thurston Howell, III. In case you don’t remember, the polls were very tight going into that convention. The Republicans had just finished with their Mayberry RFD make-believe ballroom Confab and Mitt Romney was basking in the glow of a fairly nice convention bump. Obama needed someone to come through for him big time and the former president did not disappoint.

He did the same thing for Hillary last night and it could not have come at a more opportune moment. Several polls showed that Donald Trump didn’t just get a bump from his convention, he got a B-12 injection. He is now ahead in the RCP average for the first time since both candidates entered the race. Yes, you heard that right, the nominee who ran his convention like it was the Nuremberg Rally is now leading Hillary Clinton by 1.1 points.

Michael Tomasky called the speech "cute." I disagree. I thought it was, for all intents and purposes, perfect. The 2012 speech was about policy. Bill needed to take apart the GOP argument that Obama was the reason the economy was still sluggish. That had he simply listened to their "wisdom" the recovery would've been twice as robust as it was. When he was done with his speech, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan were also done. Obama would go on to win by five million votes that November.

Last night was not about policy. Indeed, this entire campaign has lacked any semblance of policy. If it were about policy, Hillary Clinton would be leading by ten points. Credit Bill for doing what he has always instinctively known how to do: read the pulse of the nation.Yes, Hillary's resume is substantial; yes, she has the experience needed in a commander in chief. But as they say in Manhattan, that and a subway token will get you a ride on the 7th Avenue Express.

Bill needed to connect the dots; he needed to make the case for why her experience is so vital to the nation and, even more importantly, why Trump's lack of experience is so dangerous. From where I was sitting, he accomplished both.

Was it a bit too long, especially about the part where they met and he was trying to get her to marry him? Perhaps, but then just about every Bill Clinton speech has been a bit too long, if the measuring stick you're using is a stop watch. But, here again, he had excellent instincts. He needed to make Hillary more human, more likable. Even her staunchest supporters agree that for all her talents, she often comes across as cold and detached. Bill did a very good job of removing some of that veneer.

But it was the part about the impact she had on so many lives that was the most impressive. Going into the campaign, I was convinced she was capable and ready; but even I didn't know just how much she had accomplished in her professional life. Quite frankly, it blew me away. How much of it was ambition? Perhaps a lot of it, but go find me someone, anyone, who could touch that with a ten-foot pole. Maybe Ted Kennedy would surpass it. Maybe.

There was only one blemish in the speech. And if you've watched and heard the Clintons before you probably know where I'm going. The part about where Hillary sent Bill down to Kentucky. I don't know what he was thinking by putting that in there, but it had no business being in the speech. We're told that Bill wrote the whole thing on his own without letting Hillary see it. Good thing for him; if she'd seen that part, she probably would've crowned him.

To recap what happened in Kentucky, Hillary gave a speech about how she was going to create a lot of new energy jobs in places like Kentucky. But the problem was that during that speech her choice of words was somewhat in artful and instead of the speech being about new sources of energy it became about putting coal workers out of a job. It was careless of her to leave that much over the plate. Bernie Sanders pounced all over it, as did the conservative media. Once more, an unforced error cost her.

What Bill was trying to do was what the two of them have been trying to do for over 30 years: attempt to relitigate a past mistake rather than simply owning it and moving on. The whole email server fiasco is a case in point. Most of the heat that Hillary is taking right now is due to her insistence that she did nothing wrong; a claim that has now been thoroughly debunked by an abundance of facts.

But apart from that gaffe - and it was rather small given how long he talked - this was one of Bill's finest moments as a politician. Only time will tell if he was as successful in doing for his wife what he so nobly and expertly did for Obama.

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