Over the weekend we learned that Michelle Obama will speak on the opening night of the Democratic National Convention on August 25 in Denver. As we’ve long known, three days later, Barack Obama will close the convention with his keynote speech in front of 76,000 people at Invesco Field. But wedged between the potential presidential powerhouse duo will be former presidential powerhouse duo Bill and Hillary Clinton. Hillary will speak on Tuesday night, the 88th anniversary of women’s suffrage in the United States, and Bill is reported to be on the schedule for Wednesday, sometime before or after the vice-presidential nominee. In a very short time, we’re going to be able to examine closely the style and substance of a pair of past Democratic legends and a pair of potential future ones. It would be an exciting, harmonious experience were it not for the lingering bitterness just beneath the surface, left over from the contentious primary battle between the families. Even though the Clintons aren’t running for the White House anymore, many of their supporters (and, let’s face it, they themselves) will still want the couple to emerge from the convention looking more presidential.
Everyone’s going to be whispering about who comes across better, and who seems most like a leader of the Democratic Party. Here’s a brief look at what they’ve got going for, and against, them.
Michelle Obama: In the past she’s been knocked for being a little too “feisty” in speeches, like when she said in a stump speech in February that she was truly proud of her country “for the first time.” But she’s proven through further appearances and a spot on The View that she is charismatic, funny, and a demure speaker. Since she is the only nonpolitician of the four, she has the least riding on her. She’ll play the role she will inherit if Barack reaches the White House — welcomer-in-chief.
Hillary Clinton: This might be another chance for her to test the soaring rhetoric she found (after months of flat speeches) in her concession address in June. The date of her convention speech will buttress her already strong standing as a feminist hero, but the nuanced challenge of appearing to endorse Barack, while allowing her own disenfranchised-feeling delegates to support her, may be beyond her reach as a speaker.
Bill Clinton: The former president has avoided going on record saying he believes that Barack Obama is “ready” to become commander-in-chief, and memories of the red-faced Bill from the campaign trail are fresh in everyone’s mind. But nobody charms like Bubba (well, nobody except maybe Barack) and Democrats will be thirsting to see the funny, sexy silver fox of yore. If that’s what he gives us, a lot of wounds will feel healed.
Barack Obama: As Sam Anderson pointed out in New York in June, Barack faces the most difficult challenge of all of them — giving an inspiring, thunderous speech without seeming like a man whose only skill is giving inspiring, thunderous speeches. It’ll be hard to do that in a stadium filled with 76,000 adoring fans. In Germany, Obama stuck by tepid rhetoric, which felt safe but didn’t actually save him from messianic criticism from the McCain camp. Of all four of the speakers, he might be the one facing the lose-lose scenario.
It will be hard for the Obamas to seem more presidential than a couple who has already lived in the White House for eight years. But if Obama’s vice-presidential pick can dominate the Wednesday speeches, than the advantage of timing, at least, is on his side. With Obamas bookending the convention and a headlining running mate in the middle, chances are the news cycle will be dominated by his camp. But then again, we know better than to expect the Clintons will cede any ground.