The early part of last night’s DNC TV show couldn’t match Tuesday night. As I wrote yesterday, that first night rocked out over the body issues: health care for all, equal pay for women, open LGBT military service, repro rights, equal marriage laws—the human values of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. The speakers preached, and the crowd roared. The night was, as Robert Kuttner writes, a full-on embrace of the social issues that the Republicans have been attacking for decades. You hate homos? We love them! You think women are lying sluts? We believe in women’s integrity! It was awe-inspiring and energizing.
Last night’s implicit theme was It’s The Economy, Stupid. Union dudes and CEOs stood up and explained—well, I couldn’t tell you what they explained, exactly, because one after another, they were so boring that my eyes rolled to the back of my head and my wife insisted that we turn it down the volume to “inaudible hum.” As Molly Ball (@mollyesque) tweeted, “The CEO of Costco is every bit as exciting as I would have expected.” Andrew Golis (@agolis) added, “I'll pay big bucks for a livestream that mutes and unmutes based on how boring or interesting the speakers are” and “the big bucks would be for knowing when to finally unmute.” What’s happened to labor—and to the Democrats—when they can’t find a union or business speaker who can rouse a crowd? Even Sandra Fluke’s brief appearance (she couldn’t make it on Tuesday?) faded into the surrounding dullness.
But boy, the last hour and a half made it all worthwhile.
Once we got to Elizabeth Warren, the temperature went back up to “roaring furnace.” Many journalists call her a populist, but I don’t see it. Populist usually involves some kind of demagoguery, but I don’t think Warren could obfuscate or dissemble to save her life. Warren strikes me as almost chronically earnest, her hair tucked back behind her ears like she’s your personal tutor, explaining exactly what will be on the final exam because she’s so desperately eager for everyone to get an A. Monica Potts wrote an excellent roundup of Warren’s talk last night. I was surprised that any of it was new to folks in my Twitter feed—but then, Monica and I each followed Warren on the campaign trail, so we could give parts of her speeches by heart. Warren looked exhausted to me, but that didn’t bother the DNC crowd: They adore her for standing up for us, tracking the enemy deep into the fine print, battling subclause by subclause out in the regulatory jungles—Section IIA(3)(b)(iii) and beyond—on behalf of regular folks who can’t afford to hire corporate lawyers as our financial bodyguards.
And then came Elvis, and no one wanted to go home.
I sure hope you didn’t miss the resurrection of Bill Clinton, which Jamelle Bouie portrays with precision. As everyone has noted, his second coming could show the Obama campaign the way forward. Elizabeth Warren had introduced him by saying, among other things, that he had the sense to marry a really cool woman, which was a nice applause line. But Bill Clinton—I guess he can’t help himself, he has to flirt—said he wanted to nominate Obama because, among other things, “after last night, I want a man who had the good sense to marry Michelle Obama.” Honestly, when the camera panned to her, I thought she was blushing.
My lord, that man can talk like nobody’s business. Journotwitters were all agog at how far he strayed from his prepared remarks, which they all had in front of them, using them as notes for a truly riveting economic lecture. Wouldn’t you think "riveting economic lecture" would be an oxymoron? Not with Elvis there explaining it all to you. He dove down into the details, but only the important details, and then swam back up to the surface to summarize clearly—and then did it again, on the next point. He went through economic and health-care policy point by point, treating us like grownups who could actually understand the world instead of patsies to be swayed by a performance. You’d know a new topic was coming when he said, Listen to me now. This is important. [insert important facts here, followed by:] Do you get it? [insert pithy and highly quotable attack line here.] For instance:
But I am telling you, the claim that President Obama weakened welfare reform's work requirement is just not true. But they keep on running ads claiming it.
You want to know why? Their campaign pollster said, "We are not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers."
Now, finally I can say: That is true.
I -- I -- I couldn't have said it better myself.
Or: What innovation did he bring brought to the U.S. that built the largest federal surplus since prehistoric times? He had them on their feet when he said, Arithmetic.
Now, people ask me all the time how we got four surplus budgets in a row. What new ideas did we bring to Washington? I always give a one-word answer: arithmetic.
If -- arithmetic.
If they stay with this $5 trillion tax cut plan in a debt reduction plan, the arithmetic tells us, no matter what they say, one of three things is about to happen. One, assuming they try to do what they say they'll do—get rid of—cover it by deductions, cutting those deductions—one, they'll have to eliminate so many deductions, like the ones for home mortgages and charitable giving, that middle- class families will see their tax bills go up an average of $2,000, while anybody who makes $3 million or more will see their tax bill go down $250,000.
Or, two, they'll have to cut so much spending that they'll obliterate the budget for the national parks, for ensuring clean air, clean water, safe food, safe air travel. They'll cut way back on Pell grants, college loans, early childhood education, child nutrition programs, all the programs that help to empower middle-class families and help poor kids. Oh, they'll cut back on investments in roads and bridges and science and technology and biomedical research. That's what they'll do. They'll hurt the middle class and the poor and put the future on hold to give tax cuts to upper-income people who've been getting it all along.
Or, three, in spite of all the rhetoric, they'll just do what they've been doing for more than 30 years. They'll go and cut the taxes way more than they cut spending, especially with that big defense increase, and they'll just explode the debt and weaken the economy, and they'll destroy the federal government's ability to help you by letting interest gobble up all your tax payments.
Don't you ever forget, when you hear them talking about this, that Republican economic policies quadrupled the national debt before I took office, in the 12 years before I took office ...
... and doubled the debt in the eight years after I left, because it defied arithmetic.
It was a highly inconvenient thing for them in our debates that I was just a country boy from Arkansas and I came from a place where people still thought two and two was four.
It was amazing to hear all those facts explained with passion, followed by a rhetorical punchline with real punch. You can read the whole thing here—and I hope every Democratic politician is memorizing and cannibalizing it for use on the campaign trail—or watch it here. It’s worth it. Timothy Noah at The New Republic writes a perfect summary of his speech under maybe the best headline ever: Clinton Is Better Than Obama at Explaining Why Obama is Better than Clinton.
Don’t forget: The peace-and-prosperity president’s tenure made Republicans absolutely froth at the mouth. Clinton’s impeachment proceedings famously brought down two House speakers, in one week, who were guilty of precisely the same sins they were accusing Clinton of. Kenneth Starr’s report into Clinton’s sexual misbehavior remains an absolutely inexcusable use of federal funds. Someone said to me today that Clinton is like the bad boyfriend: You’re relieved you didn’t marry him, but you’re always glad to see him when he comes back around. But Clinton no longer seems so seductively needy to me. Maybe he’s not desperate for everyone to love him any more—or maybe he knows that we do.
In any case, last night’s performance was the Big Dog doing what he does best: explaining policy to us, clearly and without condescension, drawing on that amazing Rhodes Scholar brain and his demeanor of generous humanity. One twit commented that, on the convention floor, Rahm Emmanuel looked like he was lapping it up happily like a kid adoringly listening to his favorite professor. There’s something about Clitnon’s ordinary folksiness, his feet of clay, his Arkansas twang, that makes his lectures sound like they’re not lectures at all, even when he’s actually wagging his finger at you. Everyone on the convention floor looked riveted. They just adored him.
Someone came up with one last “text from Hillary” that said, “Wrap it up, sweetheart.” It got retweeted by everyone in my feed, and yes, it was funny. Then when Obama came out and they hugged, someone else tweeted that Obama put his arm on Clinton’s back as they walked out to prevent him from making a break for it and heading back out to grab the microphone. Also funny, but I agree more with the tweeter who said: Could he explain derivatives to us now? I was exhausted—I’m a working parent! We get up early and go all day without a break!—but I could’ve stayed up and listened to the man all night.