Tonight is the first night I’ve been able to see any of the Democratic convention. First things first: I really didn’t like the video tribute to Hillary Clinton that was aired tonight. It was all about Hillary Clinton, the woman candidate — which does Hillary Clinton, the brilliant policymaker and effective advocate, a great disservice. With due respect to the filmmakers and those who were legitimately moved by it (there are surely many), if the video had a tagline, it might read, “pretty good, for a girl.” It’s at odds with my feminist instincts and doesn’t appeal as strongly as it could to my admiration for Senator Clinton.
I had two immediate reactions to Clinton’s speech. First, purely from the perspective of speechcraft and delivery, I’ve never seen her deliver a better one. Second, she said very few positive things about Barack Obama or his candidacy. She talked at great lengths about the need to support Obama given the state of the country, the challenges we face, the alternative of John McCain, and the importance of Democratic Party unity. But aside from one line of praise for the grassroots oriented, bottom-up nature of Obama’s campaign, she had precious little to say about the appeal of the candidate himself.
But let’s remember — Clinton said precious little about the rationale behind her own candidacy until sometime early this year. Indeed, a chief weakness of her campaign may have been that her rhetoric focused so much on policy battles and not enough (and not early enough) on why she was the most qualified of 300 million people to lead.
So no one should fault Clinton for failing to give Obama the plaudits that she never gave herself. Clinton is a Democratic partisan, for better or for worse. Her rhetoric has always been focused on winning political battles, not on the unique gifts of any individual political candidate. In that light, hers was a gracious and unifying speech — at least within the Democratic Party. It’s unfair to think, as I instinctively did, that she might talk at length Barack Obama or Joe Biden and their virtues. She’s not about to change her stripes. If there are others that had the same instinct, I hope they come around.
If any of this seems nonsensical, you can chalk it up to the first wave of law school homework. And by the way, at this moment, I’m easily more afraid of seeing my writing style deteriorate into legalese and lifeless drivel than I am of not making sense.
Note: Clinton’s call for unity on access to healthcare for everyone was important. Given her disagreements with Obama on that issue, standing with him on it now will give some very important constituencies a kind of symbolic permission to vote for him. That was both big and selfless.