Bill Clinton’s masterful speech this year at the DNC was hailed by friends and foes alike as cinching the deal for President Obama, though 44 was also a superior candidate with a superior tech team. But Clinton wasn’t always such a great communicator. The 1988 introduction of then-Governor Clinton on a national stage was a fiasco as he droned on and on while nominating Michael Dukakis at the DNC. He did damage control with a full-on charm offensive during a subsequent chat with Johnny Carson.
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Bill Clinton gave a pretty masterful if overlong speech. It’s funny how every great Bill Clinton speech is on the verge of being a terrible Bill Clinton speech because he goes on and on. But he showed you can actually work policy into a convention address, put aside his ego (somewhat) in acknowledging that he couldn’t have done any better with the collapsed economy than Obama, and refuted every GOP charge against the President (save criticism of the stimulus).
It’s amazing someone as bright as Clinton wasn’t a better President. He was above average in a few ways, but far below in others. Certainly not a disaster like his successor but sort of underwhelming considering his gifts. He was undisciplined and unfocused in foreign policy, and made plenty of bad cabinet appointments. To his credit, he was able to work with some of the very same creeps who tried to railroad him out of office, but he truly was the recent Democratic President who led from behind, at least domestically. And you can triangulate your way into a second term but not greatness.
The Obama charge that rankled Clinton so much–that he was a transitional President instead of a transformative one–still rings true. But no one has ever questioned Clinton’s party loyalty and last night he put aside his chilly relationship with the President the way a senior statesman will. The GOP has no analogue to him and its poorer for that.•
The Hillary Clinton portion of the famous campaign appearance that Bubba made with Arsenio Hall in 1992, when the future President played sax.
I think if you look at their first terms side by side, President Obama has been a far more sure-handed leader than Bill Clinton with far fewer miscues–and during a much more challenging time. Hillary herself, as Secretary of State, has been more commanding than her husband was in foreign affairs. But during this appearance, she was in a supporting role.
I often think of how different relations between the sexes would be in America if at this point in our nation’s history roughly half the Presidents had been men and half women. Men are from Mars and women are from Venus, I know, but I don’t think the disconnect is merely because of some celestial difference. I think when you live in an unequal society, things become weird for all involved.
President Obama has been criticized for not communicating his message well enough to the American people during his first term, but perhaps that effort would have been time wasted. There are probably moments when an American President can define the narrative, but usually they’re just being led by it, at best framing it. You’ve probably already read “The Unpersuaded,” Ezra Klein’s smart New Yorker piece on the topic, but here’s an excerpt:
“No President worked harder to persuade the public, Edwards says, than Bill Clinton. Between his first inauguration, in January, 1993, and his first midterm election, in November, 1994, he travelled to nearly two hundred cities and towns, and made more than two hundred appearances, to sell his Presidency, his legislative initiatives (notably his health-care bill), and his party. But his poll numbers fell, the health-care bill failed, and, in the next election, the Republicans took control of the House of Representatives for the first time in more than forty years. Yet Clinton never gave up on the idea that all he needed was a few more speeches, or a slightly better message. ‘I’ve got to . . . spend more time communicating with the American people,’ the President said in a 1994 interview. Edwards notes, ‘It seems never to have occurred to him or his staff that his basic strategy may have been inherently flawed.'”
In a Financial Times article in which he elaborately kisses the ass of President Bill Clinton, historian Simon Schama also elicits some fine political analysis from 42. An excerpt about the Tea Party:
“‘The Tea Party,’ Clinton says, ‘is the most extreme incarnation of the 30-year cycle that began when Ronald Reagan said in his first inaugural that government isn’t the answer, government is the problem. But the real issue is not that the Tea Party is in control of the country, has captured the airwaves or represents a majority of public sentiment; the problem is that something [the deal-making system] that has worked for the American people in the past isn’t working now.’
And the ideologues haven’t had their ‘Waterloo moment to break the fever,’ such as the two shut-downs of the federal government engineered by Speaker Newt Gingrich and the incoming House Republicans in 1995. That triumphant phalanx assembled beneath the banner of the Contract with America to which they vowed to remain uncompromisingly faithful. But the public hated the shut-downs and blamed Republicans to the point when it became apparent they had actually taken out a contract on themselves. It was Gingrich, not Clinton, who was ousted, the president winning re-election a year later. The manufactured spat earlier this year over raising the debt ceiling had Waterloo-moment promise, but the prospect of the US defaulting for the only time in its history and the risk of sending the already stressed bond market over the cliff meant that Obama, unlike Clinton, couldn’t call the naysayers’ bluff.
So what can be done about this latest edition of Know-Nothings? ‘You can’t convert the ideologues because they don’t care what the facts are. With the world as it is, you have to fight the fight you can win, and the fight you can win is economics.’ He gets intense at this point. ‘There isn’t a single example of a successful country on the planet today – if you define success as lower rates of unemployment, higher rates of job growth, less income inequality and a health system that produces the same or better care at lower cost – that doesn’t have both a strong economy and effective government that find some way to work in harness with each other … If you don’t do that, if you don’t have a system by which the poor can work their way into it, then you lose the social cohesion necessary to hold the country together and that is a big problem.”
Schama discusses slavery in America with perpetually exhausted Charlie Rose:
Bill Clinton is on a strict vegan diet these days, which is bad news for certain restaurants. According to an amusing article by David Segal in the New York Times, eateries where the former President has stuffed his piehole continue to benefit from his visit for years. An excerpt:
“Bill Clinton has dined at Bukhara, an upscale restaurant in New Delhi, on just two occasions, but the afterglow of those visits has never worn off. The clientele, it seems, won’t let it.
Since that first meal, in 2000, so many customers have uttered some variation of ‘Give us what the president had,’ that the restaurant has started serving a mixed-meat sampler — a one-off prepared for Mr. Clinton and his guests — as a nightly special. The Bill Clinton platter, as it is known, is an aromatic spread of mixed meats, lentils and oven-baked bread.
Price: 5,000 rupees, or about $110.
For those who can’t handle that much minced lamb and chicken tandoori, a night at Bukhara can still have a Clintonian cast. Just ask for ‘the Clinton table,’ the six-seater said to be Mr. Clinton’s perch of choice in the middle of the restaurant, with an unhindered view of the open-air kitchen.
But be sure to call ahead.”