The most revealing Democratic National Convention speeches were by Presidents Obama and Clinton. Let’s start with the incumbent.
Presidents accepting renomination trumpet their accomplishments. This president’s signature accomplishment is Obamacare, pushed through Congress without one Republican vote, and upheld by one vote in the Supreme Court because five justices agreed the program’s “individual mandate” linchpin was what Obama swore it was not—a tax hike.
Obama’s acceptance speech ignored Obamacare.
Obama’s other big achievement was the “stimulus,” an $800 billion federal spending spree he proclaimed would jump-start the economy, lower unemployment and usher in prosperity. As Republicans had warned, none of this happened.
Unemployment now stands at “only” 8.1 percent. It is that “low” only because the statistic excludes the extraordinary number of Americans who have given up looking for work. If the percentage of members of the potential work force actually seeking employment were the same as when Obama took office, today’s unemployment rate would exceed 11 percent.
Obama’s acceptance speech ignored the stimulus.
(Sidebar: It now appears stimulus money was used by federal agencies to buy advertising on MSNBC, the resolutely left-wing cable outlet that worships Obama while excoriating Republicans as “racist.” In fairness, one must note that MSNBC programming is unquestionably “shovel ready.”)
Back to the convention: The most memorable thing about Obama’s speech was that it contained nothing memorable. Hope and change have given way to attack and blame, aimed at Obama’s predecessor (still responsible for all of Obama failures) and his 2012 opponent (who would protect the rich at everyone else’s expense). In sum, a dispiriting, even sad performance by the man who four years ago stirred the multitudes, promising to lower the oceans and heal the planet.
The Clinton speech was certainly a performance (it’s what he does best) and, on the surface, neither sad nor dispiriting. He went on for 50 minutes—he can’t help it; nobody likes the sound of Bill Clinton’s voice more than the man himself—while the current president waited off-stage.
The speech was typical Clinton in other ways, as well. “Glib” is inadequate to capture the style of William Jefferson Clinton, born with a gift for facile rhetoric that glides the listener along the speaker’s smoothly persuasive path. The man can yak. He is all the better at it because he is undeterred by inconvenient facts. These are malleable in his hands, effortlessly molded into whatever shape fits the current Clinton story.
Clinton’s energetic speech wowed his convention audience and won high marks from national media, even among the minority whose political leanings are conservative. I thought that, as a forensic exercise, it was excellent.
But I also thought the speech’s most memorable point, which many glossed over or ignored, was Clinton’s defense of the Obama record. The current president, Clinton told us, had done the best that could be done given how bad things were. In Clinton’s assessment, neither he nor any of his predecessors could have done any better.
Remarkable. The message of the Democratic Party’s most iconic living figure is that America under Obama—with its exploding federal deficit, stagnant economy and increasingly pessimistic citizenry—is the best we could have hoped for. This, supposedly, is now as good as it gets.
In 1980, Americans heard this message from Jimmy Carter. They also heard Ronald Reagan’s response: “Nonsense.” Voters made the right decision then. We face the same choice now.•
Rusthoven, an Indianapolis attorney and graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, was associate counsel to President Reagan. Send comments on this column to firstname.lastname@example.org.