Never in history has political oratory reached such heights. After Hillary Clinton delivered a mellifluous peroration tonight that seemed unsurpassable in the history of American rhetoric, President William Jefferson Clinton stood tall on her shoulders and brought Democratic delegates and American viewers alike to an aural Elysium no one ever dared dream tread….
Okay, just kidding.
Hillary Clinton delivered a speech that could have been more robotic only if it had been delivered by the Speak-and-Spell I had when I was a kid. That was followed by a video tribute to Bill Clinton that seemed to suggest that all that’s left for world peace is for Bill Clinton to send out the thank-you cards.
And then came the President’s walk-on. Not since Elvis Presley walked on stage in a karate gi to the tune of “Kung Fu Fighting” has there been a more self-indulgent entrance. The president walked through the fluorescent tunnels of the Staples center for what seemed an eternity. While he walked like a lost Shriner trying to find his way back to the bar, the producers ran bullet points about his administration’s successes across the screen. It was an impressive concatenation of factoids, which at times had only a tenuous relationship with his own actions in office. “The sun rose 2,737 times during the Clinton administration” wasn’t one of his bragging points, but he took credit for just about everything else.
President Clinton took advantage of the Democratic party’s enduring Stockholm syndrome. He told the audience that the eight years of Clinton captivity were in fact a time of liberation. Indeed, if you went by the steady drumbeat of revisionism last night about the mildest recession in postwar history — which ended a full year before the president took office — you’d think unproductive children were being bought and sold for food just eight short years ago and that Helter Skelter race wars were leaving our cities in smoky ruins. “Eight years ago, when our party met in New York, it was a far different time for America. Our economy was in trouble, our society was divided, our political system was paralyzed,” the president announced. All that was missing from this apocalyptic vision were his recollections of intelligent talking apes rounding up humans in nets.
The president suggested tonight that the America of eight years ago did not oppose church burnings or “murderous hate crimes.” This is the sort of cutesy dishonesty that the press loves to ignore, while calling Dick Cheney’s speech rabidly partisan. First of all, the supposed church burnings that Republicans supposedly did not oppose all took place under Clinton’s watch. And yet I didn’t see them run that stat while he was walking from the men’s room to the stage. Moreover, the church burnings he exploited to gain victory in 1996 were almost entirely a myth. Yes, they took place. But — despite his Justice Department’s assertion of an “epidemic of terror — there’s no evidence that racial bigotry had anything to do with the fires. And as for America not opposing “murderous hate crimes” prior to his arrival, well, in a narrow sense that’s sort of true. But we were opposed to this catchall crime called “murder” — we just thought all ethnic groups deserved to be protected from it.
Sure, President Clinton did what he needed to do to rally the faithful last night, but these battered spouses would have cheered if he read the phone book or the Starr report. Indeed, so eager were these people to cheer that the president’s biggest applause line was “let me be clear.” If that gets the crowd to their feet, how could he fail?