Friday, July 29, 2016

DemCon Day Four: Hillary Has Found that Childhood Bully. It's Payback Time.

Under pressure to deliver "the speech of her life," Hillary Clinton not only delivered, she seemed to relish it. Here is why.

No matter what the delegate count is, Robert’s Rules of Order is clear on one point: nothing is actually signed, sealed, and delivered until the candidate says, “Yes, I accept your nomination for President of the United States.”

Perhaps that is why, for this observer, it was at that moment and that moment only that the wave of history finally crashed on shore. I paused to think of the people who are no longer with us who would have so relished the moment, but not the obvious names – Eleanor Roosevelt or Susan B. Anthony. Rather, I thought about the women who showed up every day, at home or at an office; whether it be those who taught our children, fought in our military, or who entered our workplaces and made them become better, more fair, more open, and more accepting. For them, and for all of us, Hillary Clinton’s acceptance of her party’s nomination is, alone, a magnificent milestone.

What followed for me, however, was the further reflection that the state of our national discourse is so profoundly soiled that it had not even occurred to Jabba-the-Trump to even briefly acknowledge in the course of his one hour standing blovation that history that would soon be made by the opposition party. Even if the raw Machiavelli in him had made such a gesture for political gain in a shameless pander to the female audience that he must win over, it nevertheless would have had a startling impact. Indeed, it could have been the one thing people remembered from his infamous “Heart of Darkness” speech. Once upon a time, the opposing candidates carried, at worst, a grudging respect for each other, usually born of years in Washington that caused paths to cross and required cooperation and personal relationship. Let the First Anger Games begin.

Last night was, indeed, hyooooge for the Democratic Party. More than anything else, it was the night the Democrats went brazenly on the offensive, aggressively making a play for perceptual leadership in traditional Republican strongholds. Most notably, the Democrats made a direct run at positioning their candidate as the vastly more qualified Commander-in-Chief, highlighted by the ramrod tough, take-no-prisoners, full-throttle bark of a retired four star Marine general.  And, at a decibel count less than half of the General but perhaps twice the impact, the father of a Muslim soldier who sacrificed his life for his fellow American soldiers publicly shamed The Donald by reaching into his lapel pocket and offering Trump his own personal copy of the Constitution.

In our assessment of Donald Trump’s acceptance speech and the entire Republican Convention, we expressed mild amazement at the utter absence of effort to reach beyond the red-meat base and make a case to the undecided vote.  The entire Republican strategy was to energize the base to get out and vote.

In contrast, the Democrats seemed to have intentionally created a strategic sequence and pace to gradually expand their appeal over the full four days of their convention. Monday was clearly devoted to the sole task of unifying the party, led by unifier-in-chief Michelle Obama, who was followed on the stage by the two most ardent champions of the progressive left – Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.  But by Tuesday, the pivot had begun, and Bill Clinton’s warm personal portrayal of his wife started the turn toward undecided voters. On Wednesday, Michael Bloomberg overtly announced that his message was targeted beyond the arena to undecided voters at home.

On Thursday night, the Democrats handed the microphone to notable Republicans who had opted to support Clinton over Trump. Doug Elmets, former official in Reagan’s White House, jauntily channeled Lloyd Bentsen: “I knew Ronald Reagan. Donald Trump, you are no Ronald Reagan!”

Further still: Democrats as a rule are a little squishy about this whole church and state thing, right? Dating back to when John F. Kennedy needed to reassure voters that there would be no hot line to the Vatican, through secularists like McGovern, Mondale, Dukakis, Gore, and Kerry, the Dems have generally ceded all the fire and brimstone to Team Red.  Indeed, Barack Obama had to publicly disown the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. When Democrats talk about religion, it is generally to acknowledge that there are a lot of them, to say that they love them all, and then to move on as quickly as possible.

Well, this party may be led by a grandmother, but this is not your grandmother’s Democratic Party. This one saved a nice ripe time slot on Thursday night for Protestant Minister William Barber II, pastor of the Greenleaf Christian Disciples of Christ Church in Goldsboro, North Carolina. With a hunched intensity and oratorical skills that approach Dr. King himself, Reverend Barber made a surprisingly aggressive case that religion is now being manipulated and contorted to support political and economic ends. “Faith is used to justify hate and greed… religion is used to camouflage meanness.” This is a whole new chapter in the Democratic playbook.

And, to leave no stone unturned, the Democrats introduced Sheriff Lupe Valdez of Dallas County, Texas, who addressed the support of her city for the police force in the wake of the horrific shootings. The Democrats had taken a calculated risk, in that on Tuesday they had prominently featured the “Mothers of the Movement” – mothers of African American children slain in incidents of questionable police action and random gun violence – without appearing at the time to offer equal solace to the grieving families of murdered police.  Introducing Sheriff Valdez on Thursday night – to the far larger audience – appeared to be a carefully scripted part of the “pivot.”

As if to nail once and for all just how brilliantly this convention had been stage-managed, it was at exactly 10:03 – just after the broader network audiences had kicked in – that Chelsea Clinton stepped to the podium.  Much will be made of the “Battle of the High Powered Daughters Introducing their Parent, Candidate for President!”  I am sure that there is some Reddit sub-realm totally devoted to that topic, and yet I find myself uninterested in forcing that comparison. In an election where we are finally feeling a triumph of women’s rights, the very idea that the two candidates were each introduced by high-achieving, charismatic, independent, and articulate daughters should be cause for joy, not reason to trigger a Trumpian Miss Daughter of the Candidate Pageant.

If there’s any comparison to be made, the more interesting one is between Chelsea and Bill on Hillary. For all Bill did to fill in a picture of a side of Hillary that we did not know, it was still very much a tale of an incredibly dedicated idealistic woman who relentlessly pursues justice, fairness, and equal opportunity.  But it was Chelsea Clinton who managed to convey her mother’s full capacity for warmth, humor, caring, devotion, and uncompromising love.  For everyone who has ever tucked in an eighteen-month old with “good night, noises, everywhere,”  left a note for their child while reluctantly heading to the airport, or FaceTimed with a grandchild, Chelsea conveyed an authentic picture of a deeply committed and loving mother.

When Chelsea cued the mandatory video bio, it appeared that even God was endorsing Hillary Clinton. Surely it was God’s will that Morgan Freeman would play Him in Bruce Almighty, so Hillary’s media crew followed suit in their selection of a narrator. And nobody does God like Morgan Freeman.

And yet, I must admit that some days I think it must be unbearably hard to be Hillary Clinton. In fact, pretty much on all those days that end with “y.”

Consider how long this woman has stood in Teddy Roosevelt’s arena, the slings and arrows of routine fortune that greet her daily, the exceptionally public airings of her humiliation relative to the private, sotto voce nature of her greatest diplomatic achievements, the zealotry with which Republicans chant “Benghazi” as if any of their tribunals had actually uncovered wrongdoing; would not all that indeed be enough – only to find that in delivering the single most important speech of her life, she must follow the two greatest public orators in generations?

Hillary Clinton picked a good night to give the best speech of her life. She is not a Barack Obama or even an aging Bill Clinton, so, cleverly, she did not try to be.

We have said throughout our assessments of the debates, speeches, and impromptu media moments of this campaign that for all the words that may be spoken, television audiences take their cue from what they see. Television is a visual medium.

What people saw last night was a relaxed, confident, and very driven woman who appeared to be relishing her upcoming battle with Donald Trump. Smiling frequently, she allowed the humor we’ve been told about so often but so rarely witnessed to score direct hits on the Twit-Wit opposing her.

In the single quote that will spin for the full news-cycle, Clinton said, “A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.” Hey, Hill: you can drop the mic on that one from now until November.

Chekov famously said that “If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off.” Though that might appear to be the slogan of the NRA, it was actually a comment on the vital need for writers to plan narrative structure, and it is keenly relevant in assessing the Democratic Convention. Only on Thursday night did we realize how the events of Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday were in large measure rifles carefully hung on the wall that Hillary Clinton would reach for in her address. One by one, they went off.

The core narrative, for example, has been about caring for our children. It is Hillary’s self-professed life’s work.

Thursday night, we found out why. Her own mother had been horribly abandoned as a child, left alone to make itin the world. From that came Hillary Clinton's ferocious determination to lead a life of ensuring that no child should endure that same fate.

Perhaps even more significantly, we learned of an incident in Hillary Clinton’s own childhood that may carry still greater significance. We all can recall traumatic events – some truly large, some merely fearsome in the perception at that moment – that are deeply etched in our earliest memory. For Hillary, it was a moment when she was four years old and retreated back into her household in fear of bullies who had scared her outside. Once back inside, she had encountered her mother, who told her that she had to learn to deal with bullies. Her mother stiffened her resolve and sent her back outside.

Suddenly, the light bulb went on. We realized that Donald Trump is that bully – that in him, she sees that horrible bully who frightened her when she was four, and every oppressive tyrant she has encountered since.

And now she cannot wait to take the fight back to him. She cannot wait. On behalf of every girl, every child, every underprivileged person who has ever been forced to submit to arrogance, unfair advantage, and oppression, she cannot wait to fight Donald Trump.

Though she only mentioned his name a few times, this speech was, in aggregate, a broadside at Donald Trump. It was a warning that in his style and attitude going forth, he best beat a hasty retweet. The sub-text of Hillary’s fierce warning was plain to see: “You can bully that anemic bunch of patrician blowhards, all-hat-no-cattle cowboys, and prissy posers you stepped on in your Republican debates, but now you are going to be dealing with me.” Donald Trump may be an open book: overtly hostile, bad-tempered, and overtly cruel to others. But, beneath the surface, Hillary Clinton is also seething, though it is compartmentalized and focused like a laser beam. The First Anger Games have indeed begun, and the battle has been joined.

Selecting her weapon of choice, Hillary took the time to spell out her very specific policy proposals, often drawing the comparison with Trump’s undefined or ill-defined plans to “make America great again.” In another elegant jab of wit, she noted how long Trump had spoken without offering any real, concrete, substantive plans of action. “He spoke for seventy-odd minutes,” she said. Beat. “And I do mean odd. He doesn’t like talking about his plan.”

Point by point, Clinton put flesh to her plan to battle ISIS, her investments in job creation and infrastructure, and to ensure that “Wall Street will never wreck Main Street again.” Moreover, she rammed home that she had specific, detailed plans for how she would pay for the proposals she was making.

To close, Clinton went back once again to that gift that just keeps giving… Donald Trump’s own wondrous quotes.  In truth, Hillary played a bit fast and loose with a Trump quote when she attributed to him the line “I alone can fix it.” In fairness, it was actually part of a large quote about Trump’s assessment that the “system is broken.” Here, via Politico, is Trump’s quote in its full context:

  • "I have joined the political arena so that the powerful can no longer beat up on people who cannot defend themselves. Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.”

The woman who insisted that “it takes a village” took Trump’s partial sentence and drove it across the Ben Franklin Bridge, up the Schuykill River, and back downtown past the Billy Penn statue. Only Donald Trump can do it, all by himself.

In Hillary Clinton’s world view, no one can make it alone.

Not the child abandoned by her parents.

Not the immigrants, not the targets of racism, not those singled out for religious persecution, not the victims of gender discrimination, not those oppressed by dictators, not the people ostracized for who they love, and not the four year old terrified by the bully.

That, she declared, is her battle. That, she explained, is her life’s work. That people, unified in common purpose, can work together to solve the most difficult, intractable problems. That people, working together, can achieve that more perfect union based on the truth that all people are created equal.That every child has the right and the opportunity to fulfill their God-given potential. It was a heck of a speech, and it was delivered with passion and authenticity often not associated with Hillary Clinton.

When she closed, more balloons fell than there will be shards when the biggest glass ceiling finally falls.

Will that happen in November?

You know that four-year-old?

I’m with her.


  1. Your analysis is flawless. I love it. #ImWithHer

  2. I thought she was good but not great. Still voting for her, of course, but remain stunned at the apparent closeness of the horserace on FiveThirtyEight.

  3. And just as close by your estimate


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