Of all the attempts in the punditocracy to explain why Bill Clinton's speech last night made Barack Obama look bad by comparison, the most bizarre is from John Harris and Jonathan Martin at Politico. They list what they say are "several classic Clinton techniques on display in Charlotte -- political lessons to be borrowed by Obama, Mitt Romney, or any politician with national aspirations." First among them is this:
Policy matters -- more than biographyYeah, that's Bill Clinton -- always the high-minded purveyor of facts above all else. Clinton would never deliver a speech full of treacle like this:
People have long remarked that Clinton's gift is for human connection -- for his supposed "feel-your-pain" empathy.
Less understood is that Clinton does not project empathy primarily by telling stories about his scrappy upbringing or other travails, the way Ann Romney related how she and her future-millionaire husband scrimped and saved in their newlywed years by eating pasta and canned tuna, or the way Michelle Obama talked about young Obama courting her in a rusty used car.
Clinton on Wednesday avoided this kind of Oprah-style mood music in favor a more potent skill -- his ability to convey the concrete human dimensions of public policy.
... his emphasis on policy has the effect -- and in large measure the reality -- of seeming to treat voters as adults who must be reached by reason, rather than Hallmark-card sentimentality....
Tonight, as plainly as I can, I want to tell you who I am, what I believe, and where I want to lead America.And he would never conclude a speech with "Hallmark-card sentimentality" about the town of his birth:
I never met my father. He was killed in a car wreck on a rainy road three months before I was born, driving home from Chicago to Arkansas to see my mother.
After that, my mother had to support us. So we lived with my grandparents while she went back to Louisiana to study nursing.
I can still see her clearly tonight through the eyes of a three- year-old: kneeling at the railroad station and weeping as she put me back on the train to Arkansas with my grandmother. She endured her pain because she knew her sacrifice was the only way she could support me and give me a better life.
My mother taught me. She taught me about family and hard work and sacrifice. She held steady through tragedy after tragedy. And she held our family, my brother and I, together through tough times. As a child, I watched her go off to work each day at a time when it wasn't always easy to be a working mother.
As an adult, I've watched her fight off breast cancer. And again she has taught me a lesson in courage. And always, always she taught me to fight.
That's why I'll fight to create high-paying jobs so that parents can afford to raise their children today. That's why I'm so committed to making sure every American gets the health care that saved my mother's life, and that women's health care gets the same attention as men's. That's why I'll fight to make sure women in this country receive respect and dignity -- whether they work in the home, out of the home, or both. You want to know where I get my fighting spirit? It all started with my mother.
Thank you, Mother. I love you.
I end tonight where it all began for me: I still believe in a place called Hope.So learn that lesson, Barack!
Or are Harris and Martin arguing that the '92 convention speech wasn't "classic Clinton"? I just don't get this.
Look, Clinton has a rare -- maybe unique -- ability to make recitations of statistics seem personal and intimate (at least some of the time). It wouldn't work for Obama (or Romney or Ryan or any of their surrogates) -- and if Obama, in particular, tried to run down the numbers as hard as Clinton does, it would engender half a dozen Obama-as-Spock columns from Maureen Dowd, and God knows nobody needs that.
But in any case, Clinton is comfortable in both modes. Arguing that he eschews the personal is just silly.