Nostalgia Night

Bill Clinton Displays All His Rhetorical Power. Which Means He Forgets to Mention Us Again

Bill Clinton likes to talk, and fortunately for the Democrats, he’s very, very good at it. Clinton delivered a speech at the Democratic convention Wednesday night that not only revved up the collected troops but sent pundits scrambling to their thesauruses to find a new word for “spectacular.”

In a fifty-minute riff, Clinton demonstrated that he is second to no one in translating policy into simple language. The role of government in society? “We believe ‘we’re all in this together’ is a better philosophy than ‘you’re on your own.’ ” Tax cuts for the wealth? “We simply cannot afford to turn the reins of government over to someone who will double down on trickle-down.”

Reducing the deficit? “President Obama’s plan cuts the debt, honors our values, and brightens the future for our children, our families and our nation. ” All this while sprinkling the speech with data that also served as applause lines.

Bill and Barack haven’t always been buddies. So there’s a certain irony in having Bill Clinton, who gave us Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, go to bat for the man who repealed it. True to his ’90s style, Clinton was a lot more circumspect on social issues than other speakers at the convention. No shout out for marriage equality from him.  The party’s willingness to embrace social issues this time shows that it is in a very different time and place than it was during the Clinton years. Also by contrast, Elizabeth Warren’s barnburner speech in which she said “the game is rigged” against working people underscored that the party hasn’t entirely embraced the New Democrat, Wall-Street friendly approach that Clinton pioneered.

The second day of the convention had a few roadbumps, some of the Democrats own making. There was a last-minute rush to edit the platform–a document that no one except  partisans on either side cares in the least about–to strengthen the language in support of Israel. There was a silly faux scandal about the word “God” being absence in the platform’s mind-numbing boilerplate about faith. Then there was the venue change for Obama’s acceptance speech from a large open-air stadium to a smaller indoor arena because of the threat of thunderstorms.

In the long run, none of this is likely to matter much. What matters is that the Democrats have really hit their stride in Charlotte. By any account, the convention speakers have connected emotionally with viewers in a way that Republicans have not. That’s a big problem for Mitt Romney, who has awful favorability ratings and has yet to connect with voters despite a rapidly approaching election day. It’s now up to Obama to clinch the deal but so far the Democrats are off to a much stronger start in the final countdown than the GOP got when it left Tampa.

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