Thursday, September 06, 2012

Watching Bill Clinton

I decided to watch President Bill Clinton's speech at the DNC this evening, and within the first few minutes found myself saying, "Dang, he's good!"  And I said it again and again for the next 45 minutes.

First off, the Clinton charisma was in full effect: the ease with which he addresses a huge crowd as casually as if he were talking to a small group of friends, combined with the skillful use of gestures and facial expressions large enough to invite all of the crowd into his space.

Second, he didn't engage in name-calling or impugning character or demonizing the entire Republican party. On the contrary, he went out of his way to praise certain Republicans for certain things - President Eisenhower for enforcing desegregation, for instance.

But what he did do was, refute the Romney-Ryan ticket's claims about what President Obama has done or will do, as well as challenge their own promises. He went down a list of issues - health care, welfare reform, the national debt - and in each case produced facts that either illuminated Obama's achievements (e.g., the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act helped to produce 4.5 million new jobs) or highlighted flaws in the Romney-Ryan platform (e.g., reducing the national debt by giving $5 trillion in tax cuts weighted toward the rich).

The recitation of numbers was broken up by the use of instructional vignettes in which he would cite a Republican claim - say, that Obama has gutted Medicare - and then say, in a calmly corrective way, "Here's what really happened."

I look forward to seeing if any fact-checkers caught any errors tonight. My sense of Bill Clinton is that he is too careful to say anything provably wrong, but I could be wrong.

He was obviously preaching to the choir tonight, but I think that anyone watching tonight who was undecided might well have been moved into the Obama column by the end. In fact, I would love to see a before-and-after poll of people who said they were undecided. In further fact, I think Obama's workers would do well to download Clinton's text, divide it into chunks and memorize bullet points.

On the whole, I think that Mr. Clinton did such a good job tonight of not only countering the Republicans' claims with alternating doses of facts, humor and deep passion, but also of placing his refutation within the context of "deciding what kind of country we want to live in" - one in which "we're all in this together" or one in which "it's every man for himself" - that I almost feel sorry for Mr. Obama for having to follow him tomorrow night.


In case you missed it, here it is (about 50 mins.). What do you think?

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