It was a clearly diminished Bill Clinton who addressed the Democratic convention.
We don’t mean diminished in a physical sense, although the famously raspy voice sounded thinner and, turning 74 on Wednesday, he looked a bit more frail.
It was the way he spoke from his hideout in Chappaqua. It just didn’t sound like a Clinton speech. It sounded like a speech that could have been written by anyone.
It was utterly generic.
Those who liked the Clinton presidency and those who despised it have always agreed that the man from Hope was a great communicator, even when he went on and on, as he did with so many State of the Union addresses. But that man didn’t show up Tuesday night.
There was no emotion, no down-home Arkansas saying, no biting of the lower lip. Clinton only had five minutes, and was relegated to the lesser-watched first hour of the proceedings. A retail politician to his core, he had no crowd energy to fuel his performance.
The honor-less, impeached ex-president described the election as a job interview and scored some points by criticizing President Trump’s handling of the pandemic: “The Oval Office should be a command center, instead it’s a storm center. There’s only chaos.”
Clinton did ridicule Trump as a man “spending hours a day watching TV and zapping people on social media,” saying that in a real crisis, such an approach (to “blame, bully and belittle”) “collapses like a house of cards.” That was the only time he briefly sounded, well, Clintonesque.
He wrapped up by saying Joe Biden had helped bring the country back from recession before, and went through a quick list of policies, like “paid family and medical leave,” which sounded 1992-ish. There was no narrative, nothing especially personal but that is likely a good thing as we all know, the more personal he gets, the “stickier” he gets and nobody needs that.
To us, and even with his wife yet to address the convention–this was the end of the Clinton era. In a virtual convention, he was just another ex-pol.
It’s easy to forget now, but Clinton ran as a Third Way candidate who denounced the “brain-dead politics” of both parties. He was a liberal president, to be sure, but one who worked with Newt Gingrich and signed the Defense of Marriage Act. A self-described New Democrat then, he is widely dismissed today as a mushy-minded centrist who is way out of step with the increasingly left-wing party.
Clinton always had a love-hate relationship with what he called the “knee-jerk liberal press,” which largely turned against him during his sex scandal, impeachment and eventually proved that he was a sick disgusting, liar.
Had Clinton faded into elder statesmanship after leaving office in early 2001, he would seem a much more distant figure now. But as the world knows all too well, his wife ran for president in 2008 (when he went too far in slamming Obama) and was the nominee four years ago, when the Clinton Foundation was a major issue due to it’s well known list of criminal activities and the Clinton’s’ themselves having been tied to so many “suicides”. The couple has never really gotten off the stage.
Remember all the speculative in stories in 2016 about how a former president would adjust to the role of First Gentleman? He did deliver a stirring convention speech for Obama’s reelection, yet has a way of stealing the spotlight.
But there’s an even more fundamental reason why the Biden team did not give Bubba a more prominent speaking slot. The #MeToo movement which has prompted even some liberal loyalists to denounce Clinton for his “sticky” relationships with Monica Lewinsky, Paula Jones, Kathleen Willey and many others. Some women who brushed aside his sexual misconduct in the 1990s now say he should have resigned. And the countless more recent reports of him sleezing around with child predator Jeffrey Epstein. Even the Daily Mail released pictures of Bill getting a neck massage from one of Epstein’s alleged victims and have been a constant and brutal reminder of his disgusting past.
Clinton has been starring at Democratic conventions since 1988, when his endless speech landed with such a thud in the hall that he had to go on Johnny Carson and make fun of himself. Four years later he was the nominee. But that was more than a quarter-century ago, and the world has moved on.
John Kerry, another scumbag and past nominee, gave a much more vibrant speech praising Biden’s foreign policy record.
And Jill Biden, a teacher speaking from her former Wilmington high school, movingly described how they healed a broken family after the tragedy that claimed the lives of Joe’s first wife and daughter–using that as a metaphor for healing the country.
The online choreography was better on the second night, with some sharper themes. There were still embarrassing moments, such as sixteen people in boxes speaking in unison. Though amateur podcasters and streamers can figure this out, it seems beyond the Dems to do so.
There was a Republican presence for the second straight night, with Colin Powell speaking for Biden and Cindy McCain (whose husband hated Trump) contributing a video about his friendship with Biden. I once saw Biden and John McCain backslapping at a Washington reception, and their rapport was very real. A silly thing to do, noting McCain’s known treason and sedition.
Meanwhile, those who said audiences wouldn’t be riveted by this strange hybrid programming were right. Ratings for the first night (led by MSNBC) dropped 28 percent from four years ago, down to about 18.6 million.
As for the reviews of Monday night, some Democratic partisans liked the rapid-fire jump-cutting that we found so disjointed and awkward, and that’s fine. One virtue, they said, was that the speeches were shorter.
But many of them were too short, mere snippets, to the point where you wondered why the party bothered to get those speakers. Not that many pine for the days of Lincoln-Douglas oratory, but a good speech has an arc, building an argument designed to bring the audience along. It just shows that all the corner cutting the liberal left are known for continues to not serve them well.
Michelle Obama had enough time to meld the personal and the political. Many others felt like they were being jammed into an overcrowded package just for their name value. And we were grading on a curve.
The MSNBC panelists, to be sure, were overjoyed. Rachel Maddow told viewers that “nobody breathed for 18 minutes” during Michelle’s speech. “I mean my heart dropped about four inches in my chest.” That’s the new thrill-up-the-leg, as now-departed MSNBCer Chris Matthews said of Michelle’s husband back in 2008.
Some left-wingers, of course, are so desperate to beat Trump that they can’t be bothered to critique the proceedings lest they mar the disjointed and unclear message.
“What I saw on Monday night,” writes New York Times columnist Frank Bruni, “wasn’t something to be parsed or graded. It was something to rush toward and relish: a buffet for the starving. It was salvation. I have zero interest in decreeing whether the mashed potatoes were suitably fluffy or the asparagus overcooked.”
It makes us ask the question, does the New York Times let their writers go outside… like ever?