Wednesday, August 27, 2008

 

Grand Slam

After a couple of uneven nights, the Democrats really hit their stride Wednesday. When even John Kerry can give a strong, forceful speech (including a line that was a hard jab at John McCain and a self-deprecating comment -- really, see for yourself), it would be hard to have a bad night.

But, beyond that, Bill Clinton demonstrated why, despite his fumbles on the primary trail campaigning for his wife, he is still the premiere political master of the last twenty years. Furthermore, his speech -- remarkably concise, nuanced and balanced between domestic and international concerns -- retrospectively made Hillary's Tuesday night speech even better. The major criticism of Hillary's generally well-received speech was that she never stressed that Barack Obama was ready for the challenges -- particularly those in foreign policy and national security -- of the presidency.

Bill Clinton filled that part in -- and then some. So, together, the two made a real one-two punch. Hillary's address was something of a personal one to her supporters, explaining why she ran -- and how Obama's candidacy can help push those concerns. Tonight, Bill came across as the elder statesman of the party -- showing what Democratic policies can actually do with a president who can enact them. Most significantly, he compared Obama with himself -- not in a self-serving way, for once: He said that he was declared too young and inexperienced as Obama is now.

Now, Republicans and conservatives will find much to milk in that statement: The fact that American interests were repeatedly attacked by Islamist radicals during a decade when, generally speaking, America was respected in the world may be a fair critique of the Clinton years. That said, for those not necessarily invested in either conservative analysis or Republican policies, if they only recall eight years of general peace and prosperity, Clinton's blessing of Obama as "ready to be president" may well go a long way. The only thing Democrats should be upset about from Clinton's speech is that it was in the 9 o'clock hour -- a full hour before the broadcast networks give their brief coverage. This was a speech worthy of being seen by as many people as possible.

In short, his appearance demonstrates why, a half-century later, Republicans must still think that the most significant legislation they ever got passed was the 22nd Amendment. Otherwise, that guy may well have been finishing his fourth term.

Joe Biden, meanwhile, was as disciplined as Bill Clinton (given each man's talent for verbosity, convention planners must have feared the night going into the wee hours): He finished speaking a few minutes before 11. He showed why he brings some considerable assets to the ticket. Even though he got the cadence wrong on his "That's not change; that's more of the same," that passage going after McCain on foreign policy issues was a powerful, and, I believe, effective.

The parade of military figures coming out in support of the Democrats was also impressive, but again, except for people watching on C-SPAN, how much of America saw it?

Still, this was a very powerful night for the Democrats, both rhetorically and image-wise. The Clintons, Biden, Kerry and others have done everything they possibly could for Barack Obama: Now it's up to him on Thursday to see if he can close the deal himself.

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