Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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August 28, 2008

THE BIG DOG... Looking back at the contentious Democratic presidential primaries, it's probably fair to say that Bill Clinton didn't emerge from the process as revered and respected as he was going into the process. His standing in party circles is still arguably without equal, but it's not where it once was.

That said, watching the maestro at work last night, it became surprisingly easy for Democrats to forget all about the unpleasantness. TNR's Michael Crowley wrote, "I predict a wave of, 'Oh, Bill, how can we stay mad at you?' commentary in the coming days," which I wholeheartedly endorse.

After the speech, CBS News' Bob Schieffer wrapped it up nicely: "I love to watch people who can do something really well. You love to see a homerun hitter hit a homerun. You like to see Michael Phelps swim. Bill Clinton knows how to make a political speech. And this was really a classic. He touched all the bases. He was funny. He socked it to the Republicans. He explained his support and the work Hillary Clinton did in her historic race for this. I can't believe the Obama people could want any more than what they got from Bill Clinton tonight."

Quite right. Indeed, the former president's ringing endorsement of Obama, for all of the rumored grudges, seemed entirely unconditional. John Dickerson wrote, "The only way he could have endorsed Obama more enthusiastically is if he'd kissed him."

Some of the more annoying critiques of Hillary Clinton's speech suggested she wasn't explicit enough in arguing that Obama is ready to lead. Bill Clinton didn't leave any room for doubt: "Barack Obama is ready to lead and restore American leadership in the world. Ready to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. Barack Obama is ready to be president of the United States." He said Obama's "proven understanding, insight, and good instincts," combined with Biden's "experience and wisdom," would ensure that "America will have the national security leadership we need."

Clinton also graciously drew a parallel between Obama and himself: "My fellow Democrats, 16 years ago, you gave me the profound honor to lead our party to victory and to lead our nation to a new era of peace and broadly shared prosperity. Together we prevailed in a campaign in which the Republicans said I was too young and too inexperienced to be commander-in-chief. Sound familiar? It didn't work in 1992, because we were on the right side of history. And it won't work in 2008, because Barack Obama is on the right side of history."

Clinton thoroughly trashed Republicans on practically everything -- including, by the way, Katrina and torture, which haven't been emphasized enough -- but was careful not to mention John McCain's name once. He said Republicans "will nominate a good man.... But on the two great questions of this election, how to rebuild the American Dream and how to restore America's leadership in the world, he still embraces the extreme philosophy which has defined his party for more than 25 years."

And the soundbites were just the quintessential Clinton. The world is more impressed with the "power of our example than the example of our power." Beautiful.

But stepping back from the specifics, Clinton's speech was a clinic on how to make policy talk sound compelling. As Ezra noted, "The speech he offered could have been a joint release from the Economic Policy Institute and the Center for American Policy foreign affairs department. But somehow, when Clinton reads it, policy slips free of the weighty terms and looping sentences that press it down, and drifts upward to read easily as part of the human condition, engaged with our everyday experience. It's a remarkable skill, and one that no other current politician possesses."

Al Gore, for a variety of reasons, decided not to utilize Bill Clinton extensively eight years ago, and John Kerry used him sparingly in 2004. The contentious primary notwithstanding, the Obama campaign would be wise to put Clinton out on the trail extensively this fall.

Steve Benen 8:16 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

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Big Dogstyle! Republicans tremble when he speaks.

Posted by: Siditious on August 28, 2008 at 8:17 AM | PERMALINK

Absolutely they should use Clinton. He is a remarkable political talent and left office more popular than Ronald Reagan. This is why the GOP has attacked Clinton so vociferously. Clinton accurately describes what it is the Republicans are up to, calls them on it and then states why he opposes it and what he would do differently. Very simple, very direct, very effective.

Obama should also use the "fairness" card. Bush tax cuts to the wealthy are not FAIR to the middle class. Republican policies that don't reward people for working are unFAIR to workers.

McCain campaign has been pushing the "Obama is unfair to Hillary" non-sensense. McCain has all kinds of fairness issues that can be tapped.

Posted by: bakho on August 28, 2008 at 8:23 AM | PERMALINK

But somehow, when Clinton reads it, policy slips free of the weighty terms and looping sentences that press it down, and drifts upward to read easily as part of the human condition, engaged with our everyday experience.

—Steve Benen

It flows not only from his speaking ability, but also from his strict adherence to rule #1 in policy: Always tie your policy prescriptions (and those of your foes) to concrete consequences.

Policy untied to consequences is mental and political masturbation.

Posted by: Econobuzz on August 28, 2008 at 8:29 AM | PERMALINK

I really resented the Clintons after the primaries, and often fell in with other Obama supporters in demonizing Hillary. After demonstrating their unwavering, selfless loyalty to Obama and the Democratic Party this week, however, I respect and admire both of them more than ever before. Wholeheartedly endorsing their former rival could not have been easy, but they did it with grace, charm, and passion.

Like many Obama supporters, I was blown away--and would even be willing to support Senator Clinton's second run for President in eight years (something I never thought I could do).

Posted by: abqkevin on August 28, 2008 at 8:36 AM | PERMALINK

I don' t know. My HD teevee showed me that one of Big Dog's nostril hairs was not pointing in the right direction, proving Bill was not totally sincere.

Posted by: bubba on August 28, 2008 at 8:38 AM | PERMALINK

I wonder how the Republican convention is going to handle the Gustav problem.

Posted by: GeorgiaGirl on August 28, 2008 at 8:41 AM | PERMALINK

I think the convention so far has had an embarassement of riches in terms of the speeches. But it is just so true that Mr. Clinton is so far above all the others, including his wife. I could listen to him forever. He is such a compelling speaker.

Posted by: on August 28, 2008 at 8:42 AM | PERMALINK

When BC is on, he's the master and a pleasure to watch. Last night he was both. He did what the Party needed him to do and looked like the experienced spokesman that many of us have been waiting for.

I hope he and HRC hit the trail and actively campaign for Obama among audiences and in critical states where their voices are likely to carry the most weight.

This election is entirely too close and too critical not to have everyone sharing the load and pulling in the same direction.

Posted by: on August 28, 2008 at 8:45 AM | PERMALINK

Hate this comment system...

Posted by: beep52 on August 28, 2008 at 8:46 AM | PERMALINK

Bill Clinton was recovering from heart surgery 4 years ago that is why he was not more present in the Kerry campaign.

Posted by: ogo on August 28, 2008 at 8:47 AM | PERMALINK

God Damn I love that man! Bubba brought his A-Game and really stuck it to the republicans, while giving the most ringing endorsement of Obama that I have heard yet. That might have been the best speech I have ever heard in my life. I hope we hear alot from him again. Obama has to be really happy with how this convention is going. Each night is better than the previous night.
That was also really cool how they stopped the roll call and Hillary called for the acclamation vote. I can't wait til tonight.

Posted by: Patrick on August 28, 2008 at 8:48 AM | PERMALINK

Your impressions of last night's speechifying were the same here.

It was a great night to be a Democrat. I wish the rest of the campaign could be this inspiring, but the Republican slime is already flying through the air.

Looking forward to tonight!

Posted by: OkieFromMuskogee on August 28, 2008 at 8:49 AM | PERMALINK

Good job Bill. Now, no more interviews, no extemporaneous comments and please keep him away from open microphones.

Posted by: msw on August 28, 2008 at 8:52 AM | PERMALINK

Policy untied to consequences is Republicanism/.


Posted by: Gregory on August 28, 2008 at 8:54 AM | PERMALINK

The Clintons have indeed Redeemed theirselves. However, Media wants you to think that Dems Convention was a bust (no red meat - vegatables are so much more healthier so the system, however) But, what the Dems did accomplish and which is stronger than all the meat in the world is UNITY, because a house divided cannot stand! Make no mistake about it. A united group is Powerful, Strong, Unstoppable.

For accurate news converage "watch C-SPAN for convention coverage and get yourself psychically cleared. Stop watching cable news channels. The MSM is desperately working to program us morning noon and night. And creating despair amongst those who are openly hopeful about 2008 politics is very easy. Just bust the bubble that gives you room to believe that change can happen and the rest falls away. Including your own sense of self-empowerment. Believe it.”

Posted by: Angellight on August 28, 2008 at 8:55 AM | PERMALINK

bakho I like the "accurately describes what it is the Republicans are up to, calls them on it and then states why he opposes it and what he would do differently."

It is very simple, very direct, very effective. I'm gonna steal it and use to coach some of my local candidates.

But the fairness issue I think needs to be couched differently. My Republican mother always told me life isn't fair when I called unfair to one of her decisions.

Instead I'd hit Edwards old meme about the secretary who pays more in taxes than her CEO boss. We can't afford to subsidize the rich anymore. Or just point out how we've ballooned the debt from $1 trillion in 1981 to $10 trillion today with giveaways for the rich.

Nobody wants to be rmeembered by history as the dumbest generation that squandered America's greatness.

Posted by: markg8 on August 28, 2008 at 9:00 AM | PERMALINK

For all sad words of tongue or pen
The saddest are these,
"Bill Clinton, you farkin' screwup, couldn't you have kept it zipped?"

Posted by: Jeffrey Davis on August 28, 2008 at 9:03 AM | PERMALINK

Hilarious, Jeffrey.

Posted by: shortstop on August 28, 2008 at 9:09 AM | PERMALINK

I just have to agree with Steve and those upthread... Clinton delivers policy in a compelling way and he never shies away from the teaching moment. It's always grounded in the specific. It's between the laundry list that Hillary gives (though I loved her speech on Tuesday) or the inspiration untethered to policy (though I've seen his web site, the policies are there) that Obama delivers. Clinton will always be forgiven because at the end of the day he believes in American: that they're going to get it if you stop and explain it.

Posted by: jhe on August 28, 2008 at 9:09 AM | PERMALINK

The Clintons have both done what they should and what they needed to do with class and energy.

They have safely passed the baton. Obama has to run the anchor leg. It is up to him to win or lose this race now.

And by the way, Hillary was Great, Bill was Grand, Joe B was Good, Kerry was Surprising, Switzer (sp) was Compelling,

and Warner was flat. If he weren't running against the worse Governor that Virginia has had in living memory I'd worry about winning the Senate seat here.

And there was lots of red meat last night.

Posted by: Lance on August 28, 2008 at 9:11 AM | PERMALINK

I can't help but think that having this reconciliation with the Clintons is part of the reason there's not a Southerner on the ticket for the first time in what 30 years? The Obama camp knew this would be coming and would have Bubba to help talk to Southern Democrats. He got the help where he needs it in Biden with the working class in the NE & Midwest but this is a big boost to any Southern strategy that the Obama camp might have.

Posted by: BullCity on August 28, 2008 at 9:45 AM | PERMALINK

He is simply electrifying in a way no modern politician has ever been. I found myself once again wishing he were running. You never get nervous when he speaks, that he might flub it. You sit on the edge of your chair, riveted by his compelling mastery of world and domestic issues, his profound insights.

He has no equal, as others have so eloquently expressed. If only he could have controlled his sexual appetite. The world would be a far better place today. President Gore would be handing the baton to Obama, or perhaps someone else. We'd be well on the way toward taming global warming and bringing new sources of clean, renewable energy on line. Bush would be a colossal failure in some other, obscure venture that would have no bearing on our lives.

But instead we're in the thick of a battle to save the planet from these right wing lunatics, and with no assurance that we will prevail.

Posted by: hark on August 28, 2008 at 10:25 AM | PERMALINK

I have never found Bill's speeches to be great. He's long winded. But he and Hillary both did fabulous jobs. I'm sure the Clinton haters out there will find flaws and machinations galore, but this pair cares about the Democratic party. They always have.

Posted by: jen f on August 28, 2008 at 10:36 AM | PERMALINK

I wonder how the Republican convention is going to handle the Gustav problem.

Probably the same way the GOP handled Katrina: by partying hearty.


Posted by: Zorro on August 28, 2008 at 11:03 AM | PERMALINK

hark... sounds like you're blaming all of the world's problems on BC's personal failings. that's alot to put on one man. BC did screw up... but he has also done alot of good. without him we may have had 8 more years of the repubs in office. he is not the saviour of the party... neither is obama... no one person is. it takes all of us rallying behind the candidate... in other words UNITY!!! i think we all need to focus on the strengths of of the democratic party and it's people and work to get obama/biden in the white house.

Posted by: sarah on August 28, 2008 at 11:10 AM | PERMALINK

I belong to those who thought that Clinton had diminshed his standing with some of the things he did during the primaries. But Bill is back. All he needs to do now is go out and campaign with and for Obama.

Posted by: Berliner2 on August 28, 2008 at 11:37 AM | PERMALINK

Oh yeah ...

That's why I voted him. I had almost forgotten after the last few months.

Bill Clinton was most definately brought his A-game last night. Obama needs to get him on the trail in Florida, Michigan and the other swing states.

Posted by: thorin-1 on August 28, 2008 at 11:55 AM | PERMALINK

I could have put this comment below any of the threads so far. I am not sure how many of you realize how totally extraordinary this convention has been.

I am a political junkie, like many of you, and have been watching -- to the extent I was able -- conventions going back to the "Joe Smith" anti-Nixon nomination in 1956. If i were put in a room with all the tapes of all those conventions before this year, I could, maybe, put together a DVD of 'highlights' and make it interesting enough that a thousand people would get it and watch it.

This year, the DNC could -- and should put together a 2-DVD set of the convention, with one being the highlights everybody knows, the other of the speeches that didn't get on the air anywhere but C-SPAN, distribute it, and people would watch it again and again.

Schweitzer (if you insist -- not for me)

and then on the other DVD, too many to name.

And with all of this, everybody is expecting Obama to blow everybody else out of the water -- and he just might do it.

This is easily going to be the most watched Convention in history. All the Obama-Clinton drama has been good for the party after all.

And this has been important in another way. People who watched this will be tuning in to the Republican Convention, expecting or just wondering if they can match it.

And they can't even come close.

(Seriously, forget 'substance,' is there a single half-way decent orator in the Republican party that I am forgetting, except for the 'too dangerous to touch' preachers or Buchanan?)

Posted by: Prup (aka Jim Benton) on August 28, 2008 at 12:00 PM | PERMALINK

In a just world, this speech, (on the heels of Senator Clinton's excellent speech) should have put an end to the MSM narrative of a party divided.

I don't have much faith in the Kool Kidz revising their outlook, but I did hear some encouraging signs on NPR, including Steve Inskeep pushing back on Rudy Gi911uliani's attempts to spin this morning.

Thanks to both Clintons for coming through big in the clutch. Like so many others have said, both their speeches reminded me of why I liked them, before the primary campaign got so ugly.

The only other thing I could have wished for is for either of them to have pushed hard an idea that Biden is the *perfect* VP for Obama. I suspect that Hillary and Barack agreed some time ago that she wasn't going to be his VP, and if she's at all bitter about it, she's hiding it very well. But no one has come back with a clear answer to the attempted Republican wedge 'gosh, if that Hillary is so good, how come she's not the VP candidate?' But that's fairly minor, in the shadow of two excellent speeches from both Clintons.

Posted by: short fuse on August 28, 2008 at 12:18 PM | PERMALINK

Great speech by Bill. We could use more of the same in the next two months. His argument for Obama carries extra weight because he's been there, and he makes the argument eloquently.

One thing about Bill and about Sen. Obama is that, even if they have some help from speechwriters in the drafts, the speeches are extensively rewritten by the speaker and the result is actually their own words. When Bush speaks, and more and more when McCain speaks nowadays, I get the impression they did not write a single word of it and are only parroting the script shoved in front of them by their neocon adivsors.

Posted by: pfgr on August 28, 2008 at 12:19 PM | PERMALINK

Just like Hillary the night before, Big Bill stepped up to the plate, swallowed his pride and loyalty (to his wife), and gave it all for Obama. The swell of regard and respect for both Clintons will live on, beyond anything they had or deserved before.

Posted by: Neil B on August 28, 2008 at 12:21 PM | PERMALINK


"If only he could have controlled his sexual appetite."

When he was asked about Lewinsky in the deposition, Clinton should have said "None of your business." Later on, when the story became public, he should have said "Yes, we did have a relationship. So what? I didn't become president in order to be told how to live my life by a bunch of hypocritical prudes."

Posted by: Lee on August 28, 2008 at 1:42 PM | PERMALINK

I thought that Bill Clinton demonstrated his capacity for - among many other things - generosity in his speech last night. He was an incredibly good advocate for Barack Obama. He built a case that was at once inspiring and reassuring. He really came through in a manner I did not dare hope for. I have to say that I think it is one of the best speeches I have ever seen him make.

I awoke with a lighter heart this morning. I may even donate some $$ to Hillary when I make my monthly donation to Obama/Biden.

Bravo Big Dog!

Posted by: TuiMel on August 28, 2008 at 2:24 PM | PERMALINK

These comments are some of the most hilarious things I have ever read here. Coming here never fails to amuse. The speech would have been even better if he had meant at least half of it. "The Big Dog." LOL.

Posted by: BillyBobSchranzburg on August 28, 2008 at 2:42 PM | PERMALINK

Perhaps my memory fails, but the reason why Kerry used Mr. Clinton so "sparingly" in 2004 might have had something to do with the later having suffered a heart attack?

Posted by: AJB_ on August 28, 2008 at 3:06 PM | PERMALINK


Kind of says it all right there.

Posted by: Lance on August 28, 2008 at 3:30 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, Lance. I'm a hillbilly Jew. That's the joke. A liberal's worst nightmare. Get it?

Posted by: BillyBobSchranzburg on August 28, 2008 at 3:59 PM | PERMALINK


I hope I speak for all the posters here who amuse you so much, when I say that it is the fervent ambition of my life to someday be as insightful, witty, and profound as you think you are.

You are your own worst nightmare. Get it?

Posted by: colonpowwow on August 28, 2008 at 4:27 PM | PERMALINK

The latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man; and we see them everywhere brought into different degrees of activity, according to the different circumstances of civil society. A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well of speculation as of practice; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good. So strong is this propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities, that where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts.

Posted by: James Madison on August 28, 2008 at 7:08 PM | PERMALINK



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