Published for The Washington Post, September 6, 2012
The first day of the Democratic convention was well organized and well presented. But the overall message was narrow and limited. Speakers offered tributes to Barack Obama and emphasized liberal social issues such as gay rights and abortion rights. The kickoff was part testimonial dinner, part NARAL meeting. (Democratic delegates have managed to boo for God and Jerusalem and wildly cheer the president of NARAL.) This approach excited liberal activists and certain members of the media. I suspect it had less appeal to undecided voters concerned about a stagnant economy and their own job prospects.
But Bill Clinton possesses better political judgment than any of his Democratic peers, and it was on full display in his convention speech. Instead of suiting up in the culture war, Clinton pitched his message to employment-focused independents. He sympathized with public anger and frustration, but claimed that Obama has “laid the foundations for… shared prosperity.” Clinton identified Democratic ideology with “free enterprise” and “individual initiative” and “advancing economic opportunity and economic empowerment.” He praised past Republican presidents for their achievements and assured Americans that democracy doesn’t “need to be a blood sport.” Clinton explained Obama’s own policies better than the president has ever done. He defended Obama from Republican attacks with humor and skill. And Clinton imputed to Obama a belief in “constructive cooperation” which the president has rarely shown. In fact, many of Clinton’s items of praise for Obama seemed more like praise for Clinton’s earlier self.