Hillary Scoured

27 Aug

According to disputed sources, President Lincoln worried his little speech wouldn’t “scour” at Gettysburg in 1863. Even more nail-biting anxiety – for Obama supporters – and anticipation waited for Hillary Clinton at the DNC podium tonight. She delivered.

What I liked, and what was a recurring feature throughout tonight’s speeches, were the historical flourishes connecting watershed events in Democratic party and American political history. Montana’s governor, Brian Schweitzer, evoked President Kennedy. Keynote speaker Governor Mark Warner concluded with Thomas Jefferson’s quote from a letter to John Adams: “I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.” Evoking the elder, post-partisan Jefferson as he reconciled with the statesman, John Adams, who was both his ally and nemesis at different points in their careers, both sidestepped the party’s more libertarian spirit and Jefferson’s enigmatic and checkered political tactics. Clinton managed to honor both women and African-Americans, evoking both Harriet Tubman and the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention for women’s rights. “If you hear the dogs, keep going./If you see the torches in the woods, keep going./If they’re shouting after you, keep going./Don’t ever stop. Keep going./If you want a taste of freedom, keep going.”

These were my three favorite speeches, amid some other rather lackluster performances. The dross only made Clinton’s surprisingly entertaining delivery, which seemed to combine craft and personality in a way I’ve never witnessed before in her oratory, all that more golden. The messages from each, energy, future versus past, and struggle and diversity, are difficult for the Republicans to counter without scorn. Yet presidential historian Michael Beschloss did find a way to criticize Clinton’s accommodation with Obama.

She said some pretty brutal things about Barack Obama and his equipment to be – his experience to be president that are being aired in those McCain commercials.

And so what she said for Obama tonight – you know, he’ll bring health care, he’ll do all these wonderful things – it was great, but it was pretty generic. She could have said those things about Chris Dodd, if he had been nominated.

I think what it really needed more, if it was going to be really a huge help to Obama, would be, “I did say certain things early in the campaign, but because of what Obama has done in this campaign, I’ve seen him grow. I’ve come to question what I said against him. I have a new view that’s a lot more positive.”

I would argue that the Obama campaign has decided tactically to let the McCain campaign go negative, and face an electorate buoyed by a positive message, larded with concrete anecdotes about themselves amid their circumstances. The ethereal generality of the Obama campaign’s tactics exceeds even the aura of the Kennedy Camelot reinvention. It’s a strategy, and one has to admire the nerve of the Democratic nominee.

One train wreck is avoided. But now, Barack Obama has to assume, as Clinton tried to do, the best parts of the Democratic legacy without being weighed down by its errors. And, somehow that assumption must compensate for his lack of executive experience. He should pointedly distinguish himself from John McCain, policy for policy, soundbite for soundbite, to elevate his stature by reducing McCain to the level of his post-Vietnam lobbying career, divorce and convenient remarriage, and his post-2000 accommodation with the right-wing of the GOP. The bar keeps rising.

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