The politics of hope: Bill Clinton at the podium

Posted on 27 Jul 2016 at 9:38am

Jones, Arnold WayneI’ve decided there are only two reasons anyone votes anymore. One if fear. And one is inspiration.

The fear side can be powerful. There’s a lot to fear in the big bad world — not the least of which, in my opinion, is the thought of a planet where Donald Trump is president. It’s a legitimate thing, fear: Part of the human fight-or-flight instinct. It can protect us.

But then there are irrational fears — fears that prey on us with suspicion, exaggeration, even falsehoods. You’re more likely as an American in America to be killed by an asteroid than by an ISIS attack. Not all illegal immigrants are Mexican, or even “sneak” over the border. No one wants to ban all handguns. Christianity it not, I assure you, “under attack.”

But after watching the entirety of the Republican National Convention last week, I saw day after day or fear, trotted out like the inevitable result of progressive politics. Many of the claims were all but fact-free. And night after night after night, the reason was Hillary Clinton. Chris Christie, who should know better, even held a kangaroo court in which he had the assembled “convict” Hillary based on his “evidence” that smacked of the Salem Witch Trials; all that was missing was a burning effigy. (They haven’t been able to get legitimate law enforcement to make a charge stick, so that’s all that’s left.) I found it all itchily distasteful. And not because I’m a Democrat (in presidential politics, I have voted for two Republicans, three Dems and three independents) or even a great Hillary supporter. But because I’m an American. Hatred isn’t my go-to. Ah well. That’s politics.

The RNC actually told media that days 1 and 2 of the convention would be anti-Hillary, and the last two days pro-Trump. That never really materialized. Even Trump’s acceptance speech — for all its narcissistic bloviating — could not help but attack his opponent’s character, record, judgment. (This from a man on four bankruptcies and three marriages; Hillary has had the same spouse for 40 years.)

But political conventions only come around every four years; it’s easy to forget the last one, except for moments (Clint Eastwood talking to a chair, “poor George” Bush, born “with a silver foot in his mouth”). Maybe that’s always the tone, even for both parties.

And then comes the revelation that it’s not the way it has to be.

I’ve never voted for any Clinton — not in a primary, not in a general. Never campaigned for one, nor donated money to one. (It’s one reason the Bernie or Bust folks irritate me — who really wants to “bust” the presidency out of ego?) But even so, I have never denied Bill Clinton’s power as a public speaker — how could you? And last night, when I saw his address, I was reminded not just why he’s a great communicator, but why politics can be about inspiring people. About encouraging us with hope, not fear.

The structure was a master class of rhetoric. He mentioned nine states by name, each time eliciting hoots from the assembled delegates, but he smoothly soldiered on with his encomium. (Side note: Last week, Trump released a campaign ad that said only that his speech was 75 minutes, that he got 24 minutes of applause, and then did the math — cuz, ya know, his supporters… — that one-third of the speech was applause. How sad that he gains self worth from that.) Bill painted pictures with words, vividly. He made Hillary seem more human (and humane) than any ad has ever done.

But best of all, he drew a sharp contrast with the Republicans — not just in his portrait of Hillary, who was demonized to the point of caricature by the GOP, but in his style of speech and his off-handed emphasis on the value of public service in a candidacy. Now, I understand “political speech” and selected emphasis. But I can’t recall a single speaker at the RNC who said anything about trump that wasn’t wholly focused on either “he knows how to run a business/create jobs” or “he’s nicer in private than he seems.” I mean that quite literally. What was I missing from the GOP convention? Not just specifics, but any portrayal of Trump as someone who has put others first in his life. Things he’s accomplished that didn’t have a dollar sign in front of them.

Not so with the Hillary who Bill shared. His version was caring, outward-thinking, diligent, public-minded. He elevated rather than tore down. Every day of the RNC show was Bash Hillary Day. But Trump’s name has barely been mentioned these past two days.

It doesn’t have to be. Bill made the case not for voting against someone, but why supporting their candidate is good for America. Trump was never going to get my vote. I didn’t have to be persuaded to support the opposition, whoever that opposition was. But I’ve gotta say, last night Bill convinced me to cast my first vote for a Clinton — and not as a protest, or a compromise, but because I was swayed that she has what it takes to lead. I’ve never used the hasgtag #ImWithHer, but I do now — and with full gusto.

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