Wow. That was a blast from the past like we haven’t seen in a while. Bill Clinton showed everyone how it’s done — how to mix policy with common-sense language, passion and humanity. Have you ever seen a man more comfortable on a big stage? He would still be talking if he’d had his way. Keeping with Clintonian tradition, he went off script and way overtime, speaking for 48 minutes, or 34 minutes by Paul Ryan’s calculation.
I’m a pretty easy grader when it comes to convention speeches. If you don’t fall into the photography well or drop a stray F-bomb or have a conversation with an invisible person sitting in the chair next to you, I’ll give you at least a solid B. I thought the Republican headliners did very well in the main. Mitt Romney did what he had to do. And two nights ago we saw Michele Obama rock the house. But none of them was as good as Clinton. The stage presence, the timing, the ability to ad lib, the sense that he was speaking from both the head and heart — that’s a gift.
Clinton also claimed, on Obama’s behalf, and on the behalf of the Democratic Party, the political center. We have seen centrism maligned so much in recent years — you know, there’s nothing in the middle of the road but a yellow stripe and a dead armadillo. But Clinton became a two-term, popular president by asserting that the Democratic Party would be a party of the future and not the past, would reinvent government to make it more efficient, and would embrace free markets and entrepreneurial activity. Clinton wasn't afraid to cut deals with Republicans. He said as much last night: Cooperation isn’t weakness. He was skewering the GOP for being puritanical and obstructionist, but some in his own party surely could heed that lesson, too. Clinton balanced the budget and created budget surpluses, giving him street cred on fiscal discipline that Obama still lacks (as do the Republicans and specifically Paul Ryan, who is less interested in balancing the budget than in miniaturizing the government).
Like it or not, the center is still where governing gets done, usually. It’s also where elections get won. Both Obama and Romney know this. So do the party strategists. But when Romney took a step toward the ideological extreme by selecting Ryan, he took a step away from the mainstream of American politics. Obama benefits greatly from having an old New Democrat like Bill Clinton making the case for a second Obama term.
I linked to it up top but just fyi here’s a one-stop Clinton transcript and video, annotated with stories and tweets, might be fun to play around with.