A tie: Kathleen Sebelius and Rahm Emanuel. Unfortunately, no one heard them. They ran back-to-back in the lesser hours of Tuesday. Both a model of what a convention speech should be: sharp, disciplined, focused — thus moving the electoral ball for the party in question.
Sebelius gave a fine rendition of all the nice things Obamacare does — leaving out, of course, the staggering cost and stifling bureaucracy. She rendered Obamacare into the best free lunch since your last bar mitzvah buffet.
Rahm gave the “present at the creation” account of how Barack Obama saved Western civilization in the first few months of his presidency, attacking a series of crises — cratering economy, collapsing auto industry, two wars — any one of which would have overwhelmed an ordinary mortal. The best rendition imaginable of a literally unbelievable argument.
Sandra Fluke. Angry, humorless and entitled. Not a good combination. Her cause? Free contraception. Translation: A Georgetown law school grad like her (average private-sector starting salary: $160,000) demands that her birth control be paid for by everyone else (median household income: $51,000).
Otherwise, women are denied access to contraception, as if gendarmes are to be posted at every pharmacy in America to turn women away. This, I gathered, is the new civil rights issue of our time.
Chris Christie Award for Self-Promotion:
Elizabeth Warren. She painted a picture of unending misery stalking the land: men desperate for work, students “drowning in debt,” a middle class “chipped, squeezed and hammered,” despair all around. That’s a great argument if, like her, you’re running to depose an incumbent senator. It’s a passingly strange piece of portraiture in a nominating convention for a president who has been in power for four years. Her entire riff on the loathsome condition of the country would make excellent copy for Mitt Romney’s next “time for a change” rally in Nashua.
Most brilliantly manipulative:
Michelle Obama, by three touchdowns. Beautifully structured, delivered with studied emotion — the feigned stammer to render natural a finely written telepromptered text was a touch of genius — she made the case for why her husband governed as he has.
Because he cares. He loves his wife, loves his children, loves his family — therefore he loves you. The syllogism, a total non sequitur, was laid on with panache.
It worked. She managed to drain her husband’s entire first term of any hint of ideological or personal motivation. He is driven by his caring, giving soul — not by a deeply felt ideology developed in youth: redistributionist, government-centered, disdainful of success, committed to his social-democratic view of social justice.
Nor, apparently, is he seeking reelection for reasons of personal ambition — the ultimate vindication of the self-made man, the chance to achieve the world-historical status he himself attributes to Ronald Reagan for changing the ideological trajectory of the country. It’s because he cares.
The performance was perfect reinforcement of the “empathy gap,” which is Obama’s only hope for reelection. Given the economy, he should be behind by 15 points. The only reason he’s tied is because on “caring about average people,” Obama is up by 22 points. Only a wife can turn a ruthlessly ambitious pol, who undid the Clintons four years ago and today relentlessly demonizes Romney, into a care bear. She pulled it off.
(Note: My column out tonight will expand on this idea.)
Sui generis prize:
Bill Clinton. One of the strangest nomination speeches ever: a combination of State of the Union laundry list, policy seminar and campaign kickoff for a third Clinton term. By the end, I half expected him to say, in the spontaneous laid-back style of the whole speech: I’ve changed my mind. I nominate myself. Or, if you’re a constitutional stickler, my wife.
It would have made for the greatest call of the roll in 100 years.
The speech was all vintage Clinton: relaxed, congenial, even gracious at times (more favorable mention of the two Bushes in one hour than in a full week in Tampa), yet as sprawling, undisciplined and self-indulgent as the man himself. And painfully long.
The best part was the wonky rebuttal of the Republican case, most prominently on welfare and Medicare. Clinton was deceptively wrong on both issues, but he spun them with characteristic brilliance. In what will be an equally watched event, however, Paul Ryan in debate will demolish that case in five minutes.
A wasted opportunity. What was needed was a short, pointed, rousing address supporting Obama’s reelection. Not a folksy (“I’m fixin’ to tell you” — not a “g” in earshot for 50 minutes) bravura demonstration of Clinton’s oratorical mastery — that made an adjunct of the man who denied his wife the presidency.