Hillary Clinton's speech at the Democratic National Convention last night may prove to be an important event in party history. She has given spotlight speeches before, yet they were always utterly forgettable. Bill Clinton or Barack Obama can give a speech, and their phrases instantly enter political discourse and stay there for years: the bridge to the twenty-first century; there are no red states or blue states; a skinny kid with a funny name. Do you remember a word of her 2004 convention speech? Me neither.
H. Clinton's speeches have always struck me as litanies of complaint without anything catchy and hopeful, a key ingredient. My favourite instance of the catchy and hopeful hook to the end-of-the-world speech is Al Gore's trope of the Chinese translation of 'crisis', which even has its own Wikipedia entry. I always thought it was Al Gore who first said that the Chinese word for 'crisis' is formed by two characters meaning 'danger' and 'opportunity'. Apparently, John F. Kennedy said it way back in 1959. I feel cheated.
Last night, practically everything that H. Clinton said was memorable: we can't have four more years of the last eight years; no way, no how, no McCain; the Twin Cities joke. I could not help but think it was B. Clinton's speech. When it comes to most things, she is probably smarter than he is, but not when it comes to rhetoric. Her mind does not frame her thoughts into rhetorical figures the way his compulsively does. (He did seem to be smiling a bit too proudly during her speech; didn't he?)
Whoever wrote it, I was relieved to see the force of her argument to her supporters that they must support Obama because this is about more than her. I expected calls for party unity and so on, but what she said was what those of us not enthralled to the Clintons needed to hear: that it was not about her but about the larger cause.
If my suspicion is right that this was a Bill speech, at least in spirit, then I have to think he is going to trot out an even grander speech for himself tonight. Finally, for the first time in this campaign, I am looking forward to a speech by Bill Clinton. Perhaps he may even restore the family name.