Wednesday, July 27, 2016

In which Bill fleshes out Hillary's boilerplate

After Bill Clinton's long narrative tribute to his wife last night, Republican operative Nicole Wallace allowed that while the second half of the speech was effective, the first 25 minutes "meandered."

Nope. The speech was long, it was narrative, it was may or may not have been engaged or sympathetic. But it was the opposite of meandering. It was methodically building a case, fleshing out a set of claims Hillary Clinton has been reiterating over and over so that they feel like boilerplate.

The claims: She 's been committed to children's welfare specifically and improving people's lives in concrete ways generally all her life. She is practical and analytical and gets things done. She is a joiner, a leader and  a changemaker.

Toward the end, contrasting "the real Hillary" with the imaginary one created by her enemies Bill said, "The real one had done more positive change-making before she was 30 than many public officials do in a lifetime in office." In those "meandering" first 25 minutes, he had made that case in detail, so it was hard not to agree. Leaving out the humanizing, sanitized, personal remembrances, here are the resume points:

And then between college and law school on a total lark she went alone to Alaska and spent some time sliming fish.

More to the point, by the time I met her she had already been involved in the law school’s legal services project and she had been influenced by Marian Wright Edelman.

She took a summer internship interviewing workers in migrant camps for Senator Walter Mondale’s subcommittee.

She had also begun working in the Yale New Haven Hospital to develop procedures to handle suspected child abuse cases. She got so involved in children’s issues that she actually took an extra year in law school working at the child studies center to learn what more could be done to improve the lives and the futures of poor children...
Omitting a longish tale of her onetime surveillance of a segregated private academy in Alabama:
Then she went down to south Texas where she met……she met one of the nicest fellows I ever met, the wonderful union leader Franklin Garcia, and he helped her register Mexican- American voters. I think some of them are still around to vote for her in 2016.

Then in our last year in law school, Hillary kept up this work. She went to South Carolina to see why so many young…

…she went to South Carolina to see why so many young African- American boys, I mean, young teenagers, were being jailed for years with adults in men’s prisons. And she filed a report on that, which led to some changes, too. Always making things better. ..

So in 1974 I went home to teach in the law school and Hillary moved to Massachusetts…

…to keep working on children’s issues. This time trying to figure out why so many kids counted in the Census weren’t enrolled in school. She found one of them sitting alone on her porch in a wheelchair. Once more, she filed a report about these kids, and that helped influence ultimately the Congress to adopt the proposition that children with disabilities, physical or otherwise, should have equal access to public education.

You saw the results of that last night when Anastasia Somoza talked.

She never made fun of people with disabilities; she tried to empower them based on their abilities.
On to Arkansas, where she took a teaching job at the law school:
She also started the first legal aid clinic in northwest Arkansas, providing legal aid services to poor people who couldn’t pay for them. And one day I was driving her to the airport to fly back to Chicago when we passed this little brick house that had a for sale sign on it. And she said, boy, that’s a pretty house. It had 1,100 square feet, an attic, fan and no air conditioner in hot Arkansas, and a screened-in porch.
And then, a few years later when Bill was a ridiculously young governor:
In 1979, just after I became governor, I asked Hillary to chair a rural health committee to help expand health care to isolated farm and mountain areas. They recommended to do that partly by deploying trained nurse practitioners in places with no doctors to provide primary care they were trained to provide. It was a big deal then, highly controversial and very important.

And I got the feeling that what she did for the rest of her life she was doing there. She just went out and figured out what needed to be done and what made the most sense and what would help the most people. And then if it was controversial she’d just try to persuade people it was the right thing to do.
The structure of this is a hero's journey, like young Theseus' killing of a string of thieves and monsters on his solo journey to Athens to meet his father. She lit out from home as a college frosh and did and did and did -- slaying monsters of inequity as she passed.

Whatever you know, or think you know, about the Clintons' influence peddling, or corner-cutting or rule-breaking or mendacity, it's hard not to be impressed by the sheer volume and heft of these projects, and the commitment they bespeak.

Stepping back to the convention day as a whole, the testimony of a wide array of people -- 9/11 victims and their family members, mothers of murdered young black adults -- to Hillary Clinton's personal engagement and connection and commitment was even more powerful and also built advance credibility for Bill Clinton's hero's portrait.

P.S. An afterthought: I wonder if there's a kind of muted generational pitch in Bill Clinton's claim that Hillary had "accomplished more positive change-making" before she was thirty than many politicians do in a lifetime.  Mingled in my own reaction to the speech was a bit of personal shame as to how little I'd accomplished, particularly in my twenties. I wonder if any young Bernie acolytes personally compared themselves to young Hillary. Probably not to much effect, but I think the hint was there.

Update 2: Jonathan Bernstein captures the (intended) cumulative effect of Bill's anec-doting. The speech
was a long (long) tour of Hillary Clinton's life, focused on two themes: their happy family and her public service. It was -- just considered as a piece of electioneering -- gorgeous. Bill is an expert. He didn't make his points rapidly, but he eventually pounded them home: She's a real human being who is dedicated to the public. A listener. A problem-solver. A persevering fighter who gets things done. Story after story was eventually revealed to be supplying the supporting evidence for each of those propositions.

1 comment:

  1. Well said! Clinton's speech reminded me of how Obama, and the Clintons, play the so called long game. Lay out the theme, explain in detail, show the long hard work necessary, and then move toward the goal. Accept small steps and compromise when needed to keep moving forward. This is frustrating to our always online instant news, instant commentary media that (in my view) provided generally negative or faint praise about Bill Clinton's speech. But this appeals to many many Americans. In the instant news, instant commentary word we live in, it is easy to forget that the majority of Americans have supported Obama and now Clinton. Bill told a compelling story and with small steps built a large argument in support of Hillary.