Critic's Notebook: Bill Clinton Delivers a Mash Note to Hillary at the Democratic Convention
The 42nd president drew sniffles from the crowd with his heartwarming tribute to his wife.
The Explainer-in-Chief did it again.
On night 2 of the Democratic National Convention, Bill Clinton gave an all-important, passionate speech testifying to the goodness and strength of character of his wife, the first woman in United States history to be nominated by a major party for the presidency. And the collective sound you heard throughout the auditorium, and from many viewers watching at home, was "Awww…"
What he delivered was less a political address than a deeply personal account of his relationship with Hillary and their life together. He began by saying, "In the spring of 1971, I met a girl," and you could practically hear the music on the imaginary soundtrack swelling up. It was like the opening scene of Love Story, only with a happier ending.
The speech shouldn't have been held in an arena. It was better suited to be delivered on a wintry night by a roaring fire, with plenty of hot chocolate and marshmallows handy.
He talked about his courtship of Hillary in his inimitable homespun manner, although certain lines couldn't avoid having an unfortunate resonance, such as when he described his wariness to approach her for the first time: "I might be starting something I couldn't stop," he remembered thinking. Too bad he didn't show such restraint later in life.
He went on to recount how she turned down his first proposal (Awww…), and then how he asked a second time, only to be rejected again (Awww…). He bought a starter house that she had admired before she even agreed to marry him, but, as he triumphantly related, "the third time was the charm" (Awww…)
"I married my best friend," he declared, and you could hear the sniffles throughout the arena. The broadcast frequently cut to close-ups of Chelsea Clinton, whose tearful reactions seemed to indicate that she had strangely never heard the story before.
Bill dutifully checked off all the important life events ("We found out we were going to be parents"), even talking about when Hillary's water broke. He mentioned a day spent with his daughter watching "all six Police Academy movies back to back," which just seemed like a shameless pandering to the uneducated white male voters rejecting Hillary.
And in an anecdote to which every couple with children can relate, he talked about trying not to cry when leaving Chelsea at college. His blissful portrait of their married life made Ozzie and Harriet seem edgy by comparison. The years of couples therapy have clearly paid off.
Eventually he got around to mentioning Hillary's accomplishments, describing her as "the best change-maker I've ever met in my entire life." Contrasting his portrait of her with the demonic one painted at last week's GOP convention, he pointedly observed, "One is real, the other is made up."
Along the way, he also somehow managed to mention nearly every state in the Union in which Hillary has ever set foot, each time inevitably garnering cheers from its delegation. (The only place she seems to have missed is Guam.) In his powerful effort to humanize his wife, he pulled every weapon from his rhetorical arsenal, forgetting only to play the sax. But it certainly worked, at least with the crowd in the arena who ate it all up.
And in case you were wondering if the stakes were high enough, he promised that, for those voting for Hillary this fall, "your children and grandchildren will bless you forever if you do." No pressure there.
His speech was followed by an appearance by Meryl Streep, wearing what seemed like a recycled flag, who was very jazzed up about Hillary's historic nomination. The theme was echoed by Hillary herself, appearing via video from her Chappaqua home, surrounded by a large group including children who were clearly up past their bedtime.
"I can't believe we just put the biggest crack in that glass ceiling yet," the candidate exulted, promising any young girls who were watching that "one of you is next."
The first part of the evening was essentially a warm-up bill for Bill's main event, although there was no shortage of powerful moments. Chief among them was the appearance of the "Mothers of the Movement," composed of African-American women whose grown children have been lost to gun violence. The group included the mothers of Sandra Bland, Jordan Davis and Trayvon Martin, and they spoke with quiet dignity.
"The majority of police officers are good people doing a good job," one of them said. Another exhorted us to vote for Hillary "so that this group of hard-working mothers stops growing." The crowd responded by loudly chanting, "Black lives matter."
9/11, which occurred when Hillary was a New York senator, was another major theme. NYPD detective Joe Sweeney talked about her strong efforts on behalf of first responders. Survivor Lauren Manning, an executive at Cantor Fitzgerald who suffered near-fatal burns, earned one of the biggest cheers when she said about her painful, lengthy recovery, "I fought as hard as I could so that the terrorists would not get one more." Recounting how Hillary visited her often in the hospital, Manning said, "She had my back." And New York Representative Joseph Crowley, whose firefighter cousin perished on that day, contrasted Hillary's actions with those of the Republican nominee.
"Where was Donald Trump?" Crowley bitterly asked. Describing how Trump "cashed in" by taking advantage of funds designated to help small businesses, he said, "It was one of our darkest days, but to Trump it was just another chance to make a quick buck."
Then there was Howard Dean, who talked at length about Hillary's efforts on behalf of healthcare reform. "Her first attempt did not work," he admitted, which was putting it mildly. It was a strong speech, at least until he reprised his infamous "Dean Scream" in a light-hearted attempt to fire up the crowd, much like a comedian delivering a familiar joke for which the audience already knows the punchline.
Tomorrow night's event holds the prospect of even bigger fireworks, with President Obama reportedly poised to deliver the sort of full-throttle attack on Trump that he's been longing for. Yes, he can!