Before the Democratic Convention started, lots of Democrats freelanced the attention away — sometimes calling various Republicans Nazi-like liars and villains, sometimes flubbing up efforts to explain why we are better off than we were four years ago. Then when it started, there was the embarrassing erasure of “God” and Jerusalem as Israel’s capital from the platform language; then the effort under pressure to reinsert it; then the three voice votes that made it clear why it had been erased in the first place; then the big lie that two-thirds of the hall had voted to change the platform when it was clear that the vote was 50/50. Then the last-minute change of venues for the presidential speech, reminding us all at once of the presidential ego of addressing 70,000 devotees in an open-air stadium; and then not being able to fill that stadium; and then not being quite candid about the switch back to a mortal indoor arena.
I thought the purpose of the convention this year would be not just to shore up the supposedly somnolent Democratic base, but more important, to appeal to swing voters in the 10 to 15 purple states. But instead, the speakers went way beyond energizing the various gay, Latino, black, pro-abortion, green, feminist, and union minorities to the point of becoming whiny, angry, and caricaturing their opponents as evil incarnate. When a Sandra Fluke or Elizabeth Warren spoke (well enough), their visage was grim, and they struggled with forced smiles, as if to restrain the rant inside. We were back to 1972 all over again.
As of right now, the question is not whether these various groups will rally to these assorted claims against the majority culture, all those who supposedly have done such terrible things to so many (they will). The question is whether this “us/them” veritable war convinces the Ohioans and the North Carolinians that they really are one of the Democratic “us” — or, if they will instead be turned off by the anger and acrimony in legitimate worry that the speakers on the podium this week were shaking fingers at people just like themselves.
Bill Clinton gave an entertaining speech as is his fashion — but only for ten minutes, and then he reverted to “it’s all about me” in his 1988 fashion.
He was supposed to be the antidote to the above whining, and while he gave us one of his signature populist speeches, the effect was lost by the end of his marathon, post-11 p.m. harangue. Clinton by intent reminded us that his way of centrist sermonizing is not really part of the present Obama Democratic party, but now unfortunately sounds like a fossilized idea of the 1990s; he also reminded us by his constant allusions to the glorious past (e.g., his tenure especially), that it is, well, his past, not the present audience’s preference; he reminded an angry audience, one stirred up by an especially negative Obama campaign, that he is bipartisan, always was, and always will be.
In other words, Clinton alone rose above politics, in essence, lecturing both Democrats and Republicans that they are squabbling in a way that he long ago transcended.
Ultimately, Bill Clinton gave a defense of Obama the bipartisan healer at a time when both Obama and his own audience feel that polarization is their only way to victory.
I love Clinton’s brilliant use of praeteritio: e.g., I hope you don’t dare compare my brilliant four- year recovery that gave me a landslide victory by 1996 with the president’s inability to do the same in his four years, because since you are obviously thinking of this negative comparison, it would be unfair to do so.
Again, Clinton had a brilliant five-minute speech, then his proverbial ego took over, and we got, well, “now,” “which brings me to” “and” “finally” “listen to this” “listen up to this” “so” “I want you to listen” “this is important” “you won’t be laughing when I finish this” “wait a minute” “let’s look at the other” “wait” “you need to know” “no one ever tells you what really happened” “before I took office” and on and on – the old Clinton ad nauseam on center stage who was back to his pro forma 1988 narcissism and nullified what he had accomplished in his first five minutes.
In the end, Clinton reminded us why ex-presidents — Ford, Reagan, Bush, Bush II — do better as senior statesmen when they give way to their successors rather than as hyper-partisans — Carter — who cling to the very bitter end.