Michael Wolff at the DNC: Is Anyone Buying This Version of Hillary Clinton?

Hillary Clinton - Getty - H 2016
Getty Images

Hillary Clinton - Getty - H 2016

What must be one of history’s most troubled marriages seemed last night, in the husband’s telling, a strong, loving and enduring one. True, it was edited to a fault.

Bill Clinton may be the only person in America, at least judging by last week’s Republican convention and two days of inept Democratic speakers, to know how to give a proper speech. Conversational, intimate, his voice carefully modulated, a man comfortably in the moment, easily — pleasurably (for him and us) — holding our attention. He cast a spell from which emerged a new Hillary Clinton. Bill is better than video. His speech was her Man From Hope, the biopic that recast him in 1992 as a new, humble yet protean American political figure.

It was a convention session last night here in Philadelphia, rolling out from a 4:30 pm start to after 11:30 pm — hence with a touch of Stockholm Syndrome by the end — designed to hide in artful stage smoke Hillary Clinton’s personal ambitiousness, dedicated wonkishness and Machiavellian calculations. Over seven hours she became, in clear contrast to Donald Trump, a model of civic virtue and the personification of the new Democratic party, a more pointedly sensitive and caring women’s party, if you will.

Even the near two-hour roll call, a negotiated settlement with Bernie Sanders meant to literally meet his followers' need to be counted, worked nicely for Hillary. There is a certain kind of civic ritual and enthusiasm in this kind of going-on-too-long vote — “the great state of such and such, home to … birthplace o f… ” — that reminds you what a civic anomaly and deviation Donald Trump really is. In some ways it’s the Democrats' most basic weapon: anybody who’s ever taken a civics class, or thought he or she could grow up to be President, ought, in the end, to find Donald Trump implausible, if not perverse. (Of course a lot of people have not taken civic classes, or paid attention in them, or have had it occur to them that they would want to be president.)

Out of that sense of civic gauziness emerged a rehabbed Hillary into the quickly developing new Democratic politics, a greater progressive do-gooderism than ever before (a very different sort of Democratic politics from her husband’s). Hence, there was no mention last night of economics, business, security, military or foreign entanglements, those harsher subjects — indeed, could it be, men’s subjects?

Rather, Hillary and the Democratic Party equals warmth. (One old friend of Hillary’s from childhood giving testimony explicitly said as much: If you know her, you’d know she’s really warm.)

Hillary understands what middle class families need (really?). Hillary, says Chuck Schumer, is the salt of the earth, and when she tells you something you can take it to the bank (really?). She works for the children. Indeed, the major highlight of her resume is the few years after law school when she worked for the Children’s Defense Fund and was a public advocate lawyer. She didn’t, various people testifying for her declared, go to work for a big law firm when she graduated from law school (until, of course, she did, four years after law school, but pay no attention).

She’s an innovator and promise keeper. Hillary came into our neighborhood and came into our schools and unlike other politicians delivered on her promises. She believes people deserve the full protection of the laws. She knows women’s rights are human rights — she feels it in her bones. She will, unlike you know who, stand up for reproductive rights. She’s a caring person, most of all. She never needed instant gratification (according to her mother, reported by Barbara Boxer). She had a light in her eyes, as per Boxer, when she became a grandmother. She was a hero of 9/11.

She has a kindness and grace that endures. She remembers meaningful details. She sends encouraging notes. She makes you feel like you’re the most important person in her day. She’s against sex trafficking and human rights abuses. She’s first and foremost a mother. She works day and night. In Hillary’s America, suggests one of the video clip modules running through the convention, she spends day and night in community centers hugging children and their mothers.

In effect, bad Hillary is really good Hillary. Everything you think you knew about her is wrong, and the opposite of that is true. And perhaps in some sense it is (anyway, Stockholm Syndrome is real).

Certainly, what must be one of history’s most troubled marriages seemed last night, in the husband’s telling, a strong, loving and enduring one. True, it was edited to a fault. The good years, or at least the most distant ones, got all of the attention, and the well-known difficult years almost none at all.

And yet, it wasn’t all gauze. It was a reasonable picture of a career in politics, a policy career, a social program bureaucrat, a little-known side of public life from which most Democratic politicians come and in which they believe they make a difference (hence, the conceit that she makes things better, a change agent — if you dropped her into a bad place, she’ll improve it, declared her husband, like … Libya). And there was, in his telling, an aspect of her character that is surely true, a Sisyphean sense. She takes a punch in the head and keeps going.

For sure, the Democratic faithful, waving Hillary sticks that lent the convention a reassuring 1940s look, went out into the night (and an hour wait for an Uber) believing, for a few hours anyway, that they had missed the real Hillary all along.