The Democratic National Convention came off perfectly, even brilliantly, with the exception of two things. The first was the limitations of its presidential nominee as a public speaker. Hillary Clinton’s shortcomings as an orator are not worth dwelling on at length, because, by this point in her public career, it is a fixed part of the equation. Her speech accepting the Democratic nomination was, in part, an attempt to work around that problem. In the film preceding the speech, a friend described her as a “workhorse, not a show horse.” And as she admitted, “Through all these years of public service, the ‘service’ part has always come easier to me than the ‘public’ part.”
The second problem was the determination by a faction of die-hard Bernie Sanders activists to disrupt the convention. The protesters began shouting on the first day, and despite urgent efforts to mollify them, their effect never fully disappeared. The mostly friendly delegates were coached to break into chants to drown out the hecklers. Republicans gleefully exploited the sometimes-awkward scenes:
On the other hand, having unhinged extremists screaming at the stage beats having unhinged extremists screaming from the stage, as was the case in Cleveland. And that, of course, is the whole nub of the election. Clinton finds herself in a situation where her ordinariness and familiarity can work to her advantage. She is the one and only sane, competent candidate in the race, and her address underscored those qualities.
The first two nights of the convention revolved around cementing the Democratic base and mollifying angry Bernie fans. The second two were centered thematically on wooing centrists horrified with any of Trump’s thousand transgressions against decency and intelligence. Clinton blended both approaches. She noted the Republicans and independents supporting her campaign, and mentioned specifically John McCain, whom Trump had mocked, as “a true hero and patriot who deserves our respect.” She also gave heavy emphasis to wage stagnation, higher taxes on the rich, infrastructure, and affordable college.
The task she faces consolidating her base is not simple or automatic. The primary campaign slaughtered her image among the young, who began as her most-supportive age category, and ended it as her least-favorable:
In the age of Obama, where millennials have carried the Democratic Party, this is a remarkable state of affairs. Clinton’s problem is less ideological than personal. Months of attacks from Sanders cast her as the corrupt shill for the financial and political elite. The contempt his most fervent supporters display for her is visceral. And because the objection is more characterological than ideological, it is hard to mollify with policy promises. (Not that they’d be believed, anyway.)
The convention was a four-day show attempting, with persistent interruptions, to mend this state of affairs. Clinton’s campaign attacked the problem from every angle. It brought out Sanders himself on the first night to endorse her in a prime speaking spot. It gave her husband an hour to talk about her as a human being, with feelings, who was not born in a pantsuit. It is surely no accident that Bill Clinton’s speech dwelled mostly on Hillary as a young person, showing a version of her that the young might relate to more easily. Michelle and Barack Obama supplied the uplifting rhetoric and personal testimonials from figures well-liked by the full spectrum of the party faithful. And it used the conventions to display the party’s connection to the diverse America it represents, with immigrant communities and Muslims shown as full Americans, not objects of fear.
Clinton showed that she is levelheaded, respectful of others, intelligent, well-informed, and very tough. In an election where sane and competent could form the basis for a rousing endorsement, she displayed more than enough.