Last night Bill Clinton gave the keynote address for the second night of the Democratic National Convention. He talked for about 50 minutes. He spoke in that lovely Southern drawl that has been lampooned by just about every comedian we grew up with. He was back, on the big stage, with the whole country watching him. In his element. Bubba.
(Let me start by saying here, in a huge way, from the top of a mountaintop, that I really don’t care either way about the politics of the speech. I am here to talk about the way he spoke, and the tactics he used, things that I found so interesting last night, and how the way he spoke was so refreshing for me both as an American and a person who lives in Washington, DC. I know this little aside won’t stop the impending vitriol, as anytime you write about ANYTHING remotely political for Thought Catalog the comment box will instantly turn into a recreation of the climactic battle of Henry V, but you can’t say I didn’t try.)
So yes, Clinton spoke. And heading into last night, you may have read that Obama’s staffers were nervous because Clinton had not yet submitted his speech for review, and they wanted a chance to read it before he went out there. This was undoubtedly overblown by the media, who wanted people to tune in to see if Clinton would “go off the rails” (or in the parlance of this election cycle, “Pull an Eastwood”). So there was a sense of anticipation before Clinton went on, a nervous excitement. The New Yorker had also ran an article highlighting the strained relationship between Clinton and Obama, so the nervousness was sort of compounded.
Clinton could do any number of things last night, and Obama’s team hadn’t seen his speech, and he was getting up there to talk about a person with whom he had a strained relationship, on the big stage, in front of everyone…
And then, as we should have guessed, he did exactly what Clinton does. He calmly, point by point, addressed every critique made by the Romney campaign of Obama. He explained to us, calmly and eloquently, the way he understood (sometimes pretty complicated) policy decisions and why he believed Obama made them.
Did the speech go about 20 minutes too long? Probably. Did Clinton seem to go on a bit heavy about HIS projects, Medicaid and Welfare to Work? Definitely. Was he 100% right in all his take-downs of Romney and Ryan? Not a chance.
What he did, though, and man I didn’t even realize I missed this until he did it, was he talked to the American people as if we cared, as adults, about understanding American policy. He didn’t talk in slogans. He didn’t dumb things down to the 6th grade level. He explained a decade of policy as you would to a smart, capable friend.
And this is wildly rare in today’s politics! Trust me, I live in DC, the epicenter of all things hogwash. And sorry everyone, but it’s on both sides. Obama may have a more powerful message of hope and change, but he could never explain a complex healthcare law to me and keep me interested. Just not in his repertoire. Likewise, Romney can nail you with powerful slogans about the power of the free market and the need for business to thrive in America, but he could never explain to me, in clear and simple terms, what exactly is going on with the national debt and how we need to address it.
Bubba does that. Which is why I was so happy he chose to not show his speech to the Obama team until the day of (or the day before, depending on the report you believe.) Because if the Obama team got their mitts on that speech, they’d tell him that Market Research has shown that people like when things are simplified to slogans, and that 50 minutes is too long a speech for the modern attention span, and on and on…
This sucks for a number of ways. One, when politicians reduce everything to slogans, they’re basically saying that they believe every American is stupid. Two, when they do this, they are forming a sort of, like, oligarchy of political understanding, to put it in the lamest way possible. What I mean is that when politicians dumb everything down for the American people, they are implicitly saying, “Don’t you all worry about understanding this; we got it.” What this leads to is a culture of people in Washington who know more than everyone else, and they are quite proud of this fact.
I live here. I see this daily. When I try to argue a point with someone here in a crowded bar, someone who works on the Hill, they will at one point or another say, “Well, you don’t know the whole story there.” And it’s like, well fucking DUH I don’t know the story dude, because all I can do is watch CNN and take whatever you all give me. YOU are the ones who reduce things to slogans, and then have the audacity to condescend to me when I don’t understand an issue fully.
But Clinton knew better. He knew that people DO want to learn about policy, they do want to understand the complications of government, they do want to know exactly what they’re voting for. We are smarter than we give ourselves credit for, sometimes. And, agree with his policies or not, at least Clinton was willing to do that. To explain to us what’s going on. To not just talk in slogans. To say, “Here’s the deal, friend. Let me walk you through it.” I appreciate it, old buddy. More than you’ll know.