There’s something especially appealing about the hero who is safely back home after a risqué experience. Bill Clinton knows this and knows how to arrange his resilient face to show just that strain of I-know-you-caught-me-out-but-I-love-you-anyway. The crowd could not have made its enthusiasm more palpable unless they had put him on their shoulders, marched to the White House, and plopped him down in the Oval Office. He knows he was naughty, but naughty is exactly the right word for a peccadillo. “Some of [the public] who thought I was a good president didn’t think I was a good man,” he told Tom Brokaw. But that’s other people, he was saying in effect on Monday night in Boston. True love survives these things, and the lightly chastened hero is stronger and braver than ever.
I expect that experience happened, flared, and went to a happy sleep with Teresa Heinz Kerry. For as many hours as interest could possibly be sustained (about three) we heard her engaged in exchanges graduating in asperity, ending when she said to the persistent interrogator that he could “shove it.” All public bystanders with microphones or computers at hand stood still. Had a scandal been born? An event? A mini-event? The latter, and within 24 hours she had become the heroine of the exchange. You can’t bully Teresa Heinz Kerry, they said. She could toss back an epithet–and top it off with a million dollars, if she chose. A few such things help enormously with the awful stolidity of her husband’s speeches.
Though this is written before Senator Kerry’s acceptance speech. If correctly reported, nothing in political prose has been so burnished. We hear that the manuscript is everywhere the senator goes, and he looks at it, corrects it, adds to it, subtracts from it, ten times every day.
And on top of that, we learn, he has practiced its delivery. A friend related to me that a friend of his had served as advance man for Teddy Kennedy at the San Francisco Convention in 1984 and that he had had to listen to the senator’s 45-minute speech five times, delivered in full and at full volume. This was the speech in which Teddy denounced every Republican thought, word, and deed under the incumbent administration. If I had been there I’d have asked the poor young advance man whether the speaker paused at every point where applause was reasonably expected. If it had been a presidential State of the Union speech, such pauses would consume about as much time as the speech itself. “And I am telling you that the voters of America will not put up with this any longer! ” Thinking back, how long would you guess the applause for that line would have lasted, at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, in 1984? The speech was deafening, and it had a resonant life in the state of Minnesota, which was the only state, four months later, that voted against Ronald Reagan, pursuant to the urging of Convention Speaker Kennedy.
It won’t be so this time, because in 1984 Ronald Reagan had a great deal going for him. The Democrats don’t have Ronald Reagan, but they have Ronald Reagan Jr., who has become a Democratic picador. The party of John Kerry can eat hungrily off Iraq. There was no Iraq in 1984 to bedevil Ronald Reagan. The economy back then was going forward in long strides. This time around it is less resolute, and jobs are certainly being lost to outsourcing. The cost of medicine troubles much of the population, and much of the population is living longer. There is the sense in Boston of a president, George W. Bush, whose title is unclear. The picador even said that Al Gore had actually won the Florida vote, which is not true–even after the Supreme Court ruling, a neutral inquiry conducted by USA Today and the Miami Herald established that Bush had won the vote in Florida.
Mr. Bush is not going to win as triumphantly as Ronald Reagan, but the cheers for Bill Clinton on Monday aren’t going to register the national mood on November 2. They are enlivening in Boston, but the day will surely come, as so often in the past, when the cheering has to stop.