I am not a big admirer of Hillary Clinton as a pure politician, but I thought she did very, very well last night. Her speech was brilliantly crafted — a credit to her speechwriters — but after some fits and starts, she delivered it superbly. No wooden laughs or phony heartiness. Yes, it was the usual list of “to-do’s”, but it fit how she had been presented to the convention: as someone who would know what to do, and would get it done. I have four observations, only one of which is critical:
1) I especially liked the riff about the founders at the beginning and then at the end. It situated her campaign in American history — and a history that the Democrats have too often ceded to the Tea Party types — it underscored the theme of unity amidst diversity, and it insinuated that Americans don’t need another aspiring monarch (i.e. Trump) to rule over them.
2) I thought the speech showed the extraordinary effect of Sanders and Trump’s campaign on the economic debate. No discussion of ruinous deficits or debt in this campaign (Trump makes at best a passing reference to these) and a hint, too, of big spending to come on energy and infrastructure that will create jobs; no discussion of “entitlements” (that favorite word of the Pete Peterson crowd in DC) ruining our economy; instead, a promise to increase them (though she should have mentioned Medicare) and a denunciation of factory closings, economic inequality, Wall Street vs. Main Street, and money in politics. Believe me, if Sanders had not run, and if Clinton were facing Jeb Bush, the economic discussion would have sounded completely different.
3) I was glad to see Clinton talk about the threat of ISIS. It may be that the American government can do little to stop isolated attacks in the United States by alienated individuals, but Clinton has to show that she will try to do something about the problem and expose Trump’s sheer bluster on the subject. I worry that ISIS will try to do something in October to sway voters as Osama Bin Laden did in the 2004 election.
4) The one place where I thought Clinton went too far was in her discussion of illegal immigrants. To defeat Donald Trump, Clinton does not have to suggest that illegal immigrants, who now make up about five percent of the labor force, have posed no legal, economic or social problems, and should all, without any qualification, be granted a “path to citizenship.” She won’t lose Hispanic votes by noting the need for border enforcement, or by affirming that legal applicants should have priority, or by acknowledging that illegal immigration has driven down wages and increased social costs. She’s running against a guy, after all, who threatens to deport millions and who charges that Mexicans are rapists. This was a subject where she could have tried to neutralize some of Trump’s appeal, but didn’t.