The Big Dawg was unleashed, and boy was Bubba barking last night.
Employing his best Arkansas drawl, he connected in ways that no president --of either party-- has been able to do in several decades (if ever).
How many times did he say "Listen" or "Wait a minute", "This is important" or simply "Now..."?
Can you imagine any other politician, on either side of the aisle, being able to pull that off? One who would even try?
What was the moment when he won the evening? (Well, the correct answer is: the second he opened his mouth.)
When he pointed out that Obama appointed Hillary, that was a classic Clintonian moment; it was the way he said it: Heck, he even appointed Hillary!
That is "triangulation" on an entirely different level: that of the elder statesmen, the wizened veteran, the wily rascal, still lavishing every second on the biggest of stages.
One of my (female) friends texted me halfway through the speech and wrote "He could get some from any woman in that room right now. Well, except Hillary."
In truth, the entire speech was, to invoke a very tired but totally necessary cliché, a tour de force. There is only one person on the planet who could have pulled that off, and his initials are WJC.
For me, the seminal moment occurred when he paused --after succinctly laying out what the Republicans want (and have promised to do): even lower taxes for the wealthiest 1%, increased defense spending (in excess of what the Pentagon has asked for!), and significant cuts in the programs that help the middle class and poor kids-- and smirked: "As another president said: There they go again."
That is how you insert the shiv with a smile on your face.
On purely aesthetic levels, this was truly like an extend jazz improvisation: only someone with the requisite skills, knowledge and discipline can operate without a net, in real time, and make the magic happen as they go along.
You like apples? How about THESE apples.
An already beefy speech almost doubled in word count via off-the-cuff observations and friendly-sounding fire dropping out of the September sky like a rain of apocalyptic frogs. Too long? The only people wishing it would end were the people on the receiving end of those barbs and jibes (or aw shucks and jives). There were myriad reasons Clinton drove the Republicans bat-shit insane all through the '90s and some of them were on ample display last night: the type of instant connection with a crowd that a spoon-fed charlatan like Mitt Romney could not buy with his considerable millions, the love of debate backed by stats and history (two things the contemporary GOP is increasingly allergic to, and for good reason) and an almost inimitable ability to praise his past foes all in the service of making a point about the contemporary villains. At the risk of redundancy, I'm compelled to pull another cliché out of the campfire: people who study speeches, politics and the social art of making friends and influencing people will be devouring and digesting this masterstroke for the foreseeable future.
If the Republican Convention was a tribute to the goose that laid the golden egg, by the time Clinton completed his night's work --an instant classic by virtually any criteria-- the Big Dawg had turned into the Cheshire Cat, standing above the carcass he carved up, picking his sparkling teeth with those dirty bones.
And speaking of that other convention, let's pause for a moment and consider that the man who last led that party --the same man whose bellicose imcompetence turned Clinton's surplus into the disaster of debt Obama inherited-- was neither invited nor mentioned. What a devastating indictment; a testament to the reality that dare not speak it's name, literally.
The only critique I've heard today is at once predictable and easily dismissed: Clinton stole the show, and possibly Obama's thunder. Now, in fairness, Bubba raised the bar so high it does beg the almost inconceivable question: Can Obama --who has given a barnstormer or two in his time-- possibly rise to the occasion this evening?
The good news for the Democrats, in terms of last night overshadowing tonight, is that in the worst case it's still a win/win. Clinton was there to do precisely what he did (only more so, as it turned out, to Obama's delight). There won't be anyone who decides not to vote for Obama because Clinton outshined him. On the other hand, there very well may be more than a few folks willing to get on board (or, crucially, back on board) because Clinton achieved, in less than sixty minutes, what Obama and his team have largely been unable to accomplish, for the last 3-4 years. When the truth sets you free, it behooves a leader to have the courage of his convictions. Obama spent too much time worrying about, or else underestimating the case he could --and should-- have been making, forcefully and without fear, going back to the Wall Street aftermath (THIS is what government is for; THIS is why we need regulations) and the rollout of health care reform (Folks, this idea originated from Republican think tanks; this plan is a very conservative alternative to debt and dependency). Hopefully his team was taking notes, and some invaluable if overdue lessons have been learned courtesy of the master.
After tonight, no matter how it plays out --and the smart money is on Obama bringing the noise; his legacy, after all, is at stake-- the campaign will capitalize on this momentum, crafting Clinton's treasure trove into some succinct, effective talking points. And they will flatter by imitation the example of the Big Dawg, using smiles and facts to rebuff the trash heap of half-truths, naked deceit and racist innuendo that the other side long since conceded is their only strategy.