Politics & Policy

Seven Thoughts on Bill

So I’m in Maine, far from equatorial Philadelphia, in semi-seclusion with my wife, dogs (cats) and a book that just won’t get out of my head. But I am watching the conventions from the relative cool (the heat wave is here too, alas). So obviously I will be watching Bill’s big speech. A few thoughts in no particular order:

1. When Bill Clinton is on top of his game, he is a peerless political communicator. When he’s off his game he’s a plodding bore. I expect him to be on his game given how much he wants to be the first “First Gentleman.”

2. The notion that Bill Clinton, of all prominent Americans not convicted of a violent crime, might be officially named “First Gentleman” is a crime against all logic, fact, and decency. Dubbing him Duodenary Gentlemen would be a promotion far beyond merit.

3. On that note, I think he could help himself enormously by offering some glimmer, hint or suggestion of remorse or apology for what a spectacularly horrible husband he has been. Everyone in the audience — well, at least the TV audience — knows he’s been a cad. It makes his potential status as the “First Gentleman” endless fodder for late night comedians — and Donald Trump. It might happen, but I doubt it. Bill is a gaslighter, he’d rather make the rest of feel like we’re taking crazy pills for even thinking he’s not the greatest husband in history (and, given Donald Trump’s own “romantic” history, he might feel he doesn’t need to make the concession).

4. False choices loom large in Bill Clinton’s rhetoric. He rejects those he doesn’t like, he celebrates those he wants you to take to heart. I expect him to cover the waterfront in Clintonian dialectics. Strength and wisdom aren’t opposing ideals. The environment and the economy need not be in tension. X need not ever come at the expense of Not X. Just because there’s no sex in the champagne room doesn’t mean you can’t have sex in the champagne room.

5. False modesty will come a close second to the false choices. Clinton can be very good at this. He can also be incredibly transparent. It will be interesting to see how much he credits his accomplishments to his wife.

6. Bill Clinton may be the first — or even the only — major speaker to talk about terrorism in any meaningful way. If he doesn’t, it means that the Democrats literally have no idea what to say about ISIS and terrorism. That would telegraph an enormous Achilles heel.

7. Last, it will also be fascinating to see which of his accomplishments he touts. Hillary has run way, way, way to Bill’s left. Bill signed Nafta. Bill signed welfare reform. Bill signed the crime bill and expanded the death penalty. Bill helped deregulate banking and Wall Street. He at least said he wanted abortion safe, legal and rare. Bill said the era of big government was over. Hillary has promised that she’s not even warmed up. Will he acknowledge that his wife has rejected vast swaths of his legacy, if not in word than in spirit?

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