|Bill Clinton: accepting the accolades or bowing to the boss?|
By every measure, and most pundits agree, former president Bill Clinton put the big hurt on the GOP with his nomination speech Wednesday night. He eviscerated the core arguments of the Romney/Ryan ticket, leaving them nothing but the shadow of their distortions clouding their future as both parties move toward November.
The Right is stunned. A strong example is New York Times conservative columnist Ross Douthat:
It gets better. Time senior political analyst, Mark Halperin, whose commentary skews generally to the center-right, listed Clinton's accomplishments in the speech:In a sweeping, sprawling, drawling 48-minute stemwinder of a speech last night, the former President of the United States drove a rhetorical truck through the biggest opening that Mitt Romney and the Republicans created for Democrats last week. The G.O.P. convention promised to make difficult choices and hard calls and be bracingly honest with the public, but the Republican speakers discussed policy in only the broadest and loosest terms, eschewing detail in favor of generalizations and creativity in favor of boilerplate. In response, Bill Clinton did everything they didn’t, diving deep on policy detail, covering issues ranging from Medicaid to welfare to prescription drugs to student loans, and effectively defining the Republicans — defining them negatively, it need hardly be said — on a range of issues where they declined to define themselves.
Michael Tomasky of the Daily Beast gushed:
- Ate well into late local news in the Eastern and Central time zones, getting unfiltered access to a covey of undecided voters.
- Praised George W. Bush to earn bipartisan cred.
- Did a point-by-point refutation of Republican attacks on Medicare, budgets, and welfare reform.
- Rode the wave of the crowd, used humor, and built brilliantly to a conclusion.
- Made a cute, crowd-pleasing reference to Hillary.
- Graciously made it all about Obama, with his own presidency only as a backdrop.
- Talked about hope and patriotism and the American spirit in a manner that was not the least bit defensive.
- Wore the hugeness of his stature with grace, humility, and dignity.
- Gave Obama a major symbolic and literal hug.
- Most of all: didn’t disappoint and left Republicans with almost no way to rebut or respond directly to him.
Holy smokes. That was the best political speech more or less ever. There wasn’t a thing he didn’t touch on, and there wasn’t a thing he didn’t just blast out of the park. His carriage and delivery nailed it for partisans and for persuadables. He hit Republican obstructionism. He slammed the Romney and Ryan plans on virtually every point they’ve raised in the last six months, from the welfare ads to the tax cuts to the Medicare “cuts” to so much more, and he did it in detail.
Closer to home, we've got Paul Krugman complaining again (in a good way):Amazing detail! Who else could burrow into those details, give a wonky speech—which this was, in a huge way—but a wonky speech that brought people to their feet two dozen times?
I’m pretty annoyed with Bill Clinton right now; he’s just spoiled one of my standard joke lines. You see, when giving talks about the economy, I’ve often said that I have a different take from other pundits, because I know some stuff most political reporters don’t, like … arithmetic. I’ll never be able to use that line again without being accused of stealing it from the Big Dog.
Seriously, that was an awesome speech. Clinton isn’t just an amazing political talent; he has the ability to make wonkery accessible and compelling. Of course, he had one major advantage over the supposed wonks on the other side (still shaking my head over the Ryan implosion), namely, the well-known liberal bias of the facts.Krugman does offer one criticism, that Clinton recycled the "structural unemployment problem." That's the idea that the unemployed are unemployed because they no longer have the skills required in today's marketplace. I agree with Krugman. Here's an example. There are millions of unemployed construction workers. Why? There's a backlog of homes and commercial property left over from the building boom 2004-2007. Are these workers structurally unemployable and should be retrained? No. When the economy cycles through the backlog of product, we'll need those workers with the very same skills.
Sorry, off topic. On topic: My key takeaway from Bill Clinton's magnificent speech is that he debunked and blew holes in all of the Romney/Ryan ticket's campaign themes. Here they are:
- Obama has gutted Medicare. No, he hasn't, he's strengthened it. Clinton also laid out the case for how the Romney/Ryan plan will indeed gut Medicaid and how in doing so brings pain to seniors earlier than the ten-years-after that Romney/Ryan have promised. Cut Medicaid as they are set to do and seniors lose their nursing home support now that they get through Medicaid.
- Bill Clinton signed the welfare reform act in 1996 that is the basis of Mitt Romney's false ads claiming that Barack Obama is cutting the work requirement. Of course, Obama did no such thing. Clinton's cred on this has pulled back the veil on this Romney deception.
- Clinton's stats on job creation, showing that during 28 years of Republican presidential terms since 1961, 24 million jobs were created, and that during the 23 years with Democrats at the helm 42 million new jobs were created made quite clear who the job creators are. They're, uh, Democrats.
What is the most profound effect of the Clinton speech? I'd hazard that he has disarmed, in fact made almost impotent, the basic thrusts of the Romney/Ryan campaign rhetoric. Can they seriously keep saying Obama gutted Medicare? No. That they have a plan to balance the budget that won't hurt senior citizens or the middle class? No. That they "build it" and Democrats don't? Job-wise, hell no. Can they continue to run on the welfare-to-work ruse? I can't see how. Even the "Are you better off than four years ago?" argument wears thin when Bill Clinton lays out, in fine policy detail, the accomplishments and future expectations of an Obama second term.
Bottom line: Democrats have ideas, policy plans, and are willing to stand on them. Republicans has offered thin gruel in this regard. Romney and Ryan offered smoke and mirrors. Bill Clinton offered substance.
I don't claim as others have that the election is decided. But based on Michelle Obama's appealing Tuesday-night speech and Bill Clinton's enthralling spectacle of wonkery-as-entertainment on Wednesday, if Barack Obama can tie it all up in a bow on Thursday night, it may get close to game, set, and match, at least until the debates.
If I were Mitt Romney, I'd be prepping for the debates like there was no tomorrow. Because, let's face it, with Barack Obama's rhetorical skills and willingness to use actual facts, for Romney there may indeed be no tomorrow.
|Who likes Romney's chances? Hint: GOP superPACs pulled their ads from PA and MI. Ouch!|