Thursday, September 6, 2012

Some Part of America Still Pines for Bill Clinton

The New York Times counts 160 times that Bill Clinton's speech to the DNC convention Wednesday night was interrupted by cheers, laughter, chuckles, and applause.

The delegates will be hard-pressed to give President Obama's speech tonight the same heartfelt ovation. Where Barack Obama is cool, Bill Clinton is warm, and pining for the good old days under Bill Clinton could be a problem for Obama's reelection.

In true Clinton style the message is supportive but the subtext is not. When Bill Clinton refused to resign in 1998 in the face of the Lewinsky scandal, he sent a subtextual message that continuing his debilitated presidency was better than elevating Al Gore to the presidency. That created a big head wind for Al Gore's run in 2000.

Just what is the subtextual message in 2012? Here is the heart of Bill Clinton's speech:
"President Obama started with a much weaker economy than I did. Listen to me, now. No president — no president, not me, not any of my predecessors, no one could have fully repaired all the damage that he found in just four years.

Now he has laid the foundation for a new, modern, successful economy of shared prosperity. And if you will renew the president’s contract, you will feel it. You will feel it.

Folks, whether the American people believe what I just said or not may be the whole election."
But what if you don't believe it? What if you believe Bill Clinton would have repaired the damage faster? What if you believe Hillary Clinton could have been faster? That message is in there too.

The next section of Bill Clinton's speech also rings simultaneously true and hollow:
"President Obama’s approach embodies the values, the ideas and the direction America has to take to build the 21st-century version of the American Dream: a nation of shared opportunities, shared responsibilities, shared prosperity, a shared sense of community."
That's the original promise of hope and change. It's hard to say exactly when America began to give up on that. Maybe it was when Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid refused to open the legislative process as candidate Barack Obama had promised. Maybe it was when they locked Senator Olympia Snowe, the moderate Republican from Maine, out of the Obamacare negotiations. Maybe the trillions in debt mortgaged, perhaps necessarily, on America's future finally weighed too heavy on the consciousness.

Update: The New York Times counts President Obama's speech being interrupted 128 times.

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