I thought this was a very good speech, well-crafted, well delivered. Clinton seemed a touch off balance at the beginning. I wasn’t sure if she was unsettled by scattered heckling or simply needed to get her footing. In any case, she managed to get that footing in fairly short order. My first takeaway is what she didn’t do. She didn’t ‘relax’ or ‘stop shouting’ or ‘show a softer side.’ She gave a politician’s speech with a politician’s demeanor, which was entirely fitting. That is who she is. That’s what she’s doing. It worked.
There was also chatter to the effect that she needed to ‘address the email issue’, either in a literal discussion of it or in some roundabout discussion of trust. Other than some very oblique references to being in the public arena for decades and not being a natural politician, she did neither. The speech was unapologetic and straightforward. Again, good.
Going into tonight I didn’t think Hillary needed to or should try to hit it out of the park. It’s not her forte and I don’t think it was necessary. The preceding three days were choreographed to cue her up as a dogged and steady leader who could be trusted with the leadership of the country in a way Donald Trump clearly cannot be. That doesn’t require especial eloquence or presentation. But I think she managed a fair bit more than that relatively low bar.
I’ve never thought of Hillary as a terribly good speech giver. She’s better in less rehearsed settings where she can talk about policy issues. Maybe it was the moment, the quality of the text or simply the loft from the crowd but the speech in toto struck me as considerably above her standard. She rose to the moment.
Hillary Clinton is about steadiness, doggedness, doing your homework. From a jaundiced view that can mean uninspiring, cautious, unimaginative. But in addition to the speech and the entirety of the convention driving home a powerful narrative attack against Trump’s unfitness for office, the upshot of the convention was to brand Hillary as the anti-Trump, which makes sense because that is basically what she is. It’s well to step back and note how minutely woven together, how thematically integrated Obama’s and Clinton’s speeches really were – a framing and an answer. They painted a picture of Trump built not mainly with one-liners or put downs but with a much more organic narrative about a force that is basically un-American, a threat to the basic fiber of national identity. More than this, the crafters of the convention message and themes were able to pivot off Trump’s awfulness and apocalypticism to capture a deeper and more resonant image of America’s promise and values in need of vigilant protection.
For all the things you can imagine from Clinton, doing something crazy or going off half-cocked, ignorantly blundering into a disaster because she surrounds herself with ignorant sycophants … these are basically unimaginable. She might fail in all the mundane ways other presidents have failed but she will not from a manifest unfitness for the office.
This might all sound like an exceedingly low bar. I don’t mean it like that. I thought the speech was quite strong. But the presentation – a persuasive message about who Clinton is – sets the terms of the election clearly. A lot of this election really is about Trump. That might be disappointing in a way, as though he’s stealing the moment to make it about something as petty as he is as opposed to something more grand. But Trump isn’t some accident. He’s the culmination of an immense tide in our politics in the last decade or two. He’s just the catalyst for what was almost inevitably coming. He never pivoted. He organized a convention and continues to campaign as essentially an ethnic nationalist candidate. If he wins that will be validated. The speech writers wanted to make a “moment of reckoning” the fulcrum of the speech. They did. Because that’s what it has become.