Believe it or not, I actually watched both Chelsea Clinton’s introduction to her mom Hillary, and Hillary’s speech on the last night of the Democratic National Convention. I hadn’t planned to, but as your humble correspondent I felt it necessary that, if I’m going to comment on something as significant as the first acceptance speech made by a woman running for President for one of the major political parties, I ought to at least watch it.
(That, and the fact that right now the Red Sox are incredibly frustrating to watch. I still think manager John Farrell’s job is in jeopardy, especially if they get swept by the Angels in Anaheim. Or is it California? Or is it Los Angeles?)
But I digress.
First of all, is it OK to admit I liked that red number Chelsea wore, with the zipper going all the way down the back? Do I sound like a COG (Goodboy-speak for “creepy old geezer”)? Well so be it. I’ve never considered her that attractive or (gasp!) sexy, but I thought she wore that dress well. What struck me most about her speech (as compared to, say, those made by Eric, Ivanka, and Donald Trump Jr. during their convention speeches) was the lack of genuine, family affection towards her mother. The Trump kids were both incurably and genuinely effusive and demonstrative in their love and affection for their dad. Chelsea, I think, reserves that kind of affection more for her dad; to me Chelsea’s relationship to her mom sounded more like a respected political and business partner than loving and devoted child. Just my opinion, but in that regard I found Chelsea’s introduction to her mom just a little unsettling, if not outright creepy.
Hillary’s speech can be broken down into two separate reactions: content and presentation. As far as content goes, it didn’t really break any new ground. From its disjointed nature, I agree with Politico’s Jeff Greenfield: her speech seemed to be the work of a committee tossing in stuff here and there that Hillary wanted mentioned, then tied together in a somewhat haphazard fashion. Outside of a few sentences tossed in as purely reactionary to Donald Trump (does anyone really believe Hillary will negotiate better trade deals?) and Bernie Sanders supporters (does anyone really believe Hillary will get tough on Wall Street? Heck, they’re her largest campaign contributors!), Hillary’s speech could have been one made at any point over the past year and a half out on the campaign trail, if not the past two decades. Not a lot of detail, just a lot of rhetoric saying how Democrats care about women and children, education, healthcare, social security, and the middle class, and are more tolerant and accepting than those mean old Republicans.
As far as presentation goes, I think the speech was better than I expected. She was able – at least for the first half of it – to speak in a kind of measured, authoritative tone without falling into that screechy-shout that makes one long for fingernails scraping across a chalkboard, but that didn’t last long: as the speech went on and the crowd got louder in order to drown out Bernie protesters she started to get into more of a shouting mode, to the point where I was just about to turn the damned thing off.
The best part of her speech came when she went after Donald Trump, and there she seemed to effectively use a bit of humor mixed with ridicule that actually made me think she was actually a human being and capable of humor that wasn’t phony. Unfortunately, that didn’t last long, as immediately afterwards she dived into a litany of traditional Democratic causes and in doing so started to raise her voice and use that cadence that makes one think of a teacher chiding an unruly pupil after school. It’s not flattering to her, and, at least as far as I was concerned, it forfeited any good will she might have gained from unaffiliated or independent voters that might have tuned in.
Which leads me to my final point: its overall effectiveness. My guess is that Hillary’s speech is destined to go down as, if not a failure, than one as largely ineffectual. Ultimately, convention speeches are graded not on how you make the sale to your own party faithful, but to those who tuned in looking for a reason to crawl over shattered glass to enter a voting booth and pull the lever for you, and in this way Hillary failed. The Donald Trump critique was solid, and had it been pushed to the end of the speech perhaps it would have been more effective. But instead Hillary stupidly launched into red-meat mode, attacking the NRA and promising to use the Supreme Court to overturn its Citizens United vote, then for what seemed the gazillionth time repeating her role as a champion for women’s and children’s causes. At that I pretty much threw up in my mouth and called it a night.
I’m guessing I wasn’t alone.
The problem with Hillary’s speech was that, take away the setting and the occasion, it was nothing more than pushing “the Cause”: the same Democratic / liberal / Progressive issues that Barack Obama has been pushing these past eight years. She couldn’t help it: Hillary is cut from the same cloth, after all. Donald Trump, on the other hand, represents a movement that is neither traditionally Democrat nor Republican: it’s a populist movement designed to tear down the status quo, the Washington-Wall Street-Beltway insider “uniparty” establishment that Hillary can’t help but represent. Heck, she’s been a part of it for more than two decades.
In another year, against a different candidate (for example, Jeb Bush or Ted Cruz), Hillary’s attempt at cloaking her liberal/progressive/feminist Democrat lineage in a little Main Street populism would likely get the job done, but this year she’s running against a alpha-male populist who isn’t interested in playing the same polite game of politics that the likes of John McCain and Mitt Romney did. Like the colonists at Lexington and Concord, who chose to fight the stodgy, rigid British in a untraditional (and unexpected) guerilla fashion, Donald Trump’s movement has the kind of guerilla passion and spirit that Hillary’s admittedly well-presented message lacks.
What last night showed was a messenger and a message that is old and stale. In an election year where people are desperately seeking change, Hillary represents the Washington establishment and more of the same. And while her performance tonight was as good as anyone had reason to expect, I will be surprised if it changes the dynamic of the race for the White House much, if at all.