Bill’s old. He feels rickety and a little fragile, especially when he first walked out on the stage tonight. He looked to me like someone who might break if you pushed too hard. He seems to have a touch of a tremor in his hands.
I’ve lived almost my whole adult political life in a virtual relationship with Bill Clinton, with many ups and downs, in the second half of the relationship more downs than ups. In many ways this was a classic and an entirely familiar Clinton speech – especially post-presidential Bill Clinton, more storyteller than advocate or campaigner. And yet it’s subtly altogether different because it’s intimate and personal, barely at all tied to policy, and rippling underneath the surface with devotion and guilt and restoration and ambition and a whole fabric of different things probably a lot of us who’ve been watching this story for a quarter century sense intuitively.
I’m used to watching all these speeches as an observer rather than an audience. But in this case, over the stretch of Bill’s speech, I became the audience. I got pulled in by his discussion of the cartoon Hillary versus the actual person – not a perfect person, who is? – a woman with immensely broad shoulders and a tremendously rich life history that leaves in the dust so many others of the soapbox characters that get kicked up and presented to us in political life. I’ve written a lot about the drama and the flaws. This was important for me to see and hear again.
Bill managed to pull the story together, with the riffs and ad-libs, getting revved up toward the end by the crowd and seeing some hint of the old younger guy. Perhaps it’s projection on my part. But I can’t see Bill’s passionate advocacy of Hillary, his devotion without his own recognition of his failures and betrayals, unique to their relationship, written there right on the front of the canvas. It makes it feel awkward, too personal, to me sometimes but is in its own way profound.
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