Bill Clinton and Biden Wow Democratic Convention, But Will It Be Enough?

They wowed them and, in many cases, exceeded expectations. Or did they? Two speeches.

One, by former President Bill Clinton who seemingly took a deep breath and put reportedly-simmering resentments aside to deliver a partisan speech contrasting how Americans lived under his administration versus under President George W. Bush’s, linking Republican John McCain to Bush and making the case that Democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obama is ready for the White House. Clinton will skip town tomorrow to avoid Obama’s acceptance speech. But his speech and vow to campaign, to many, has likely already started an intraparty political redemption.

The other, by Vice Presidential candidate Sen. Joe Biden. He gave conventioneers and viewers a taste of why he’s considered a good orator, a likable politician who isn’t quite perfect (flubbing some lines), someone who can project through the video tube and connect with audiences, and a speaker who can give juicy red, rhetorical meat.

But was it enough meat? Some critics — including some worried Democrats — fear the convention frittered away limited time needed to define McCain to sway voters and excite the party faithful. The Democrats did get red meat — but in chintzy portions.

Next week the GOP will throw out its read meat in servings big enough to cause heart disease.

Will this be yet one more convention pundits will point to on Election Day saying “You could see why the Democrats were doomed this summer by the way they wasted their convention”?

Here’s a comprehensive sampling of mainstream and new media reaction to the Bill Clinton and Biden speeches:

The New York Times:

Mr. Clinton proceeded to do precisely what Mr. Obama’s campaign was looking for: him to do: attest to Mr. Obama’s readiness to be president , after a campaign largely based on Mrs. Clinton’s contention that he was not.

…. Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, Mr. Obama’s choice for vice president, accepted the nomination with a speech in which he spoke frequently, and earnestly, of his blue-collar background, in effect offering himself as a validator for Mr. Obama among some voters who have been reluctant to embrace the Democratic presidential nominee.

He then turned to Senator John McCain, the likely Republican nominee, signaling how he would go after him in the campaign ahead. He referred to Mr. McCain as a friend — “I know you hear that phrase a lot in politics; I mean it,” he said — and then proceeded to offer a long and systematic case about why Mr. McCain should not be president.

The Telegraph:

Mr Clinton, previously the Democratic party’s biggest star, had been a distinctly mixed blessing on the campaign trail, working tirelessly for his wife Hillary against Mr Obama but often straying off message and delivering angry, finger-wagging tirades.

Senator George McGovern, 86, the Democratic nominee in 1972, when Mr and Mrs Clinton volunteered for him, told “The Daily Telegraph” on the convention floor: “I think he’s coming around fine. We’re never 100 per cent united. We’re a pretty ornery party. He gave a barnstormer of a speech tonight.”

The Washington Post:

At first, it seemed, it might be all about Bill and yesteryear. The former president strode onto the stage Wednesday night to his old campaign theme song ” Don’t Stop (thinking about tomorrow)” and bathing in the glow of a standing ovation that went on so long and loud that he had to finally confess “I love this.” But it turned out to be not about him at all, with Clinton delivering a speech that framed the case for Barack Obama and against the Republicans in a way that no one at this convention had done before.

…And finally Clinton brought it all together by linking his presidency to the prospect of a “President Obama” — and in putting those two words together it was as though he were finally, after months of reserve and hotheadedness, giving the new kid his blessing. Long gone was the Hillary Clinton campaign ad asking who people might trust when the phone rang in the White House at three in the morning. Sixteen years ago, Bill Clinton said, the Republicans tried to diminish Clinton by “saying I ws too young and too inexperienced to be Commander-in Chief. Sound familiar? It didn’t work in 1992, because we were on the right side of history. And it won’t work in 2008 because Barack Obama is on the right side of history.”

It is the most repetitive them of Clinton’s political life that he will always finds a way to redemption when he is down, and in many ways he proved that again with this speech. In so doing he might have accomplished something larger and less self-centered by doing all he could to bring Obama up at the same time. .

USA Today:

Aides say he had been working on the speech since Sunday, writing in longhand on yellow legal pads and getting advice from his son, Beau. The younger Biden, the attorney general of Delaware, is due to be shipped to Iraq in October with his National Guard unit.

…..The speech’s big applause lines were the ones bashing McCain…The Bush-McCain foreign policy has dug us into a very deep hole, with very few friends to help us climb out,” said Biden, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “Should we trust John McCain’s judgment when he says there can be no timelines to draw down our troops from Iraq, that we must stay indefinitely? Or should we listen to Barack Obama, who says shift responsibility to the Iraqis and set a time to bring our combat troops home?”

When it comes to Iraq and other issues, Biden said repeatedly: “John McCain was wrong. Barack Obama was right.”

….It’s about time for fiercer and more consistent engagement, says Stan Greenberg, a Democratic pollster who advised Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign in 1992. “If you ask me why Obama lost steam in the three weeks going into the convention, a big one was the failure of this campaign to define McCain and to define the choice,” he said. “Every day, every minute ought to be focused on the choice.”

The Boston Globe:

The attack-dog role, often filled by the vice presidential nominee, could prove especially significant for the Democratic ticket this cycle. Many Democrats — including those close to Senator John F. Kerry in 2004 — were disappointed four years ago that Kerry’s running mate, former North Carolina senator John Edwards, was not tougher on President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.

At the same time, Obama routinely decries what he calls the ‘‘divisive politics that is all about tearing people down instead of lifting this country up.’’ That means that the Illinois senator, more than past Democratic presidential nominees, cannot afford to come across to voters as overly negative, or he risks undermining the premise of his campaign.

‘‘Senator Obama tries to elevate the dialogue in this country,’’ said David W. Tandy, a lawyer and delegate from Louisville, Ky. ‘‘By no means will Joe Biden take it in the gutter, but what he will do is point out the clear distinctions between the parties.’’

–Glenn Reynolds aka InstaPundit:

OKAY, BIDEN STARTED OFF STRONG, but ran long. The Obama folks may want to persuade him that less is more — but I suspect that his own staffers tried that earlier in this election season. Still, a good performance, though not in Bill Clinton’s league by any means. It certainly supports this theory of why Biden was chosen.

Andrew Sullivan:

Readers know my personal disdain for Bill Clinton. But longtime readers will also know I have always defended his solid centrist, smart record in office and defended him against his most over-reaching enemies. Tonight, I think, was one of the best speeches he has ever given. It was a direct, personal and powerful endorsement of Obama. But much, much more than that: it was a statesman-like assessment of where this country is and how desperately it needs a real change toward reform and retrenchment at home and restoration of diplomacy, wisdom and prudence abroad.

Ezra Klein:

He left little unsaid. For all the talk of Bill Clinton’s anger, his resentment, his grudges, Clinton took the stage tonight and threw the full weight of his prestige behind Barack Obama. Leveraging that peculiar credibility that comes from being one of four living Americans to have held the presidency, he didn’t simply give Obama his support, but his endorsement. He said that Obama was not only ready, but right. The Obama camp could have asked for nothing more. Clinton could have delivered little more.

Well, maybe a little. It was striking that Bill Clinton never uttered the words “John McCain.” Four years ago, that steady insistence on retaining the robes of the presidency, levitating an inch or two above the fray, made sense. It was Clinton choosing a particular, and honorable, path that forever defined him as an ex-president rather than an ex-candidate. But after heatedly involving himself in the Democratic primary, after often attacking Barack Obama by name, it seemed peculiar that he would hold that portion of himself in reserve. Four years ago, Clinton wasn’t a campaigner. This year, he was.

Powerline has an extensive minute by minute post on the Biden speech headlined:”A plagiarist and his imaginary world”. It begins:

The traditional role of a candidate for vice president is to attack to other side’s presidential candidate. Joe Biden did this effectively tonight. In the process, though, he gave one of the most intellectually dishonest speeches in recent memory. Here are the highlights and the low lights:

Read it in full.

1Boring Old Man:

On this night four years ago, I was getting depressed. The Convention wasn’t going well for me, and when Kerry rolled out his “band of brothers,” I didn’t believe him. I just wasn’t able to see macho war hero as a mantle that would get him elected. As time passed and he appeared wind surfing and duck hunting, my spirits fell even further. I would have supported the Marquis de Sade over Bush, but the Kerry campaign seemed doomed. When Bush was re-elected, I had the only clinical depression of my adult life.

Sugar N Spice:

What a night. President Clinton delivered his comments in his usual outstanding manner, but this is what should be noted. Aside from all of the “praise” for Barack Obama, Bill spent quite a bit of time praising John McCain too and this is something that voters will not miss. For all of the Obama campaign’s attempts at painting McCain as a “third term of Bush”, the truth is, he isn’t and the party leaders know it. After the Republican National Convention is over next week, it will only get harder for the Obama campaign to pick McCain apart because for one, Obama doesn’t have an actual substantive record to stand on and for two Obama doesn’t have an actual substantive record to stand on. The President gets an A- reflecting a few points from the A+ he would ordinarily have received, because he said too many positive things about Obama.

Joe Biden’s speech was going pretty well until he echoed Horse Face with the “Freudian Slip”, substituting “George” for “John” while trying to criticize McCain. Maybe, just maybe if Horse Face hadn’t done the same thing just a few minutes prior, it wouldn’t have been so obviously staged by Biden.

Tonight I feel differently. I thought John Kerry, Bill Clinton, and Joe Biden were all three substantive and eloquent speakers. But most of all, I thought what they said was the truth as I know it – the truth about the country, the truth about McCain, and the truth about the people they’re running for office.

The Corner’s Jonah Goldberg:

But come on: To listen to the Democrats you’d think the Great Depression was a day at the beach. There are economic challenges out there, hardships etc, sure. But you’d think we’re all living off of puddle water and grub larvae from the way they talk about life in America today.

I think at some point the disconnect between the country these people are describing and the country we actually live in is going to undermine the Democrats’ credibility.

Open Left’s Chris Bowers:

This might shock you, but I actually enjoyed tonight. Bill Clinton helped get things going with a typically strong speech, and then John Kerry actually, really, and completely kicked ass. He ripped into McCain, and was very clear in his attacks. Either he was a lot better as a speaker tonight than he was during the campaign four years ago, or we are not giving him credit for being a strong candidate. (The latter is actually quite possible, given that Kerry outperformed the national Democratic House vote in 2004.)

Beau Biden did a good job introducing his father, although I wasn’t quite as blown away by it as the pundits and the people I was watching with. Joe Biden lacked poetry, but he really, really hammered McCain. Given that is what I have hoped to hear from Democrats for so long during this campaign, it was great to hear. He seems to be every bit of the attack dog that we had hoped for when the short list became clear.

Pajamas Media’s Stephen Greene:

Going in, I was dreading Joe Biden’s speech. The man can talk, maybe even as much as I can. Distilled essence of Biden is, I think, the active ingredient in Ambien. So how’d he do tonight?

Short answer: Pretty darn good.

And on Clinton:

Clinton came out swinging, boldly stating right up front that, “I am here to support Barack Obama.” “Second, I’m here to warm up the crowd for Joe Biden. I love Joe Biden and America will, too.” And that’s about as much mention as Biden got in Clinton’s speech.

And why does Bill think Obama is “the man for the job?” Let’s take a look at his words.

Well, Clinton based that endorsement on “everything I learned in eight years as President.” It’s all about Bill.

And why is Obama so good? Because “the long, hard primary” had “strengthened him.” In other words, Obama was weak to start.

And with Joe Biden on board, “America will have the national security leadership we need.” Obama wasn’t qualified, so he picked a veep who was.

But the digs didn’t end there.

Read his post in full.

The Huffington Post’s RJ Eskow:

After this speech, any lingering bitterness toward the former President will probably be replaced by a ‘come home, all is forgiven’ glow. Obama supporters may differ with Bill Clinton on policy issues, but Bill Clinton has restored his position as the patriarch and elder statesman of the Democratic Party.

Bill Clinton endorsed Obama’s ability as commander in chief in unequivocal terms, and he laid out a strong argument about his ability to fix the economy. Sure, we could nitpick. The line-parsers are already jumping on his praise for Biden’s experience, although I thought that the balance between “experience” and Obama’s “insight” was well-nuanced. I did think he was too soft on McCain, overpraising his independence and failing to note McCain’s flip-flops and reversals as he bound himself the Bush wing of the party.

But these are minor quibbles. Will this speech help Obama in the general election? Almost certainly, and Obama would be wise to draw on Bill extensively in the coming campaign. Will it help heal the Democratic Party? Definitely.

Daily Ramblings:

I’d like healthcare that doesn’t cost half my rent. I’d like my parents to be able to retire. I’d like a job market that has actual jobs in it. I’d like our government to invest fully in renewable energy, not because of some “save the Earth” hippie bullshit, but to create a new national industry where Americans do the work instead of outsourcing it. Biden strikes me as someone who wants these same things, and he’s got my full support.

Politicsmatters’ diary on My DD:

Something has changed. Tonight is amazing. I can feel a turn of the tide.

This wouldn’t have happened without Michelle’s speech on Monday and, most of all, without Hillary’s speech yesterday.

But tonight the intensity and quality of speeches have been amazing. Bill Clinton is still a genius, of rhetoric and of the mastery of policy. Kerry was so strong. And (at the time this diary was written) we still have Biden on deck.

We know what matters, we know what politics is about. It’s about our lives, our hopes, our possibilities. It’s about the world we live in and the world we want to create.

Tom Watson:

So that little drama is over, just in time for the one that really counts. Forget the Biden choice, the Clinton speeches, Al Gore’s appearance, the roll call, and all the assorted rallies, parties, and bloggerfests. The one thing that counts most next week – the real game-changer amidst dipping poll numbers – is Barack Obama’s acceptance speech.

This is the moment to break out of one half of the Democratic voter rolls. And it must not be business as usual, the rather tame standard stump speech Obama sleep-walked through in Germany last month. It can’t be warmed-over Iowa. It needs to be an entirely new speech, a revitalized Obama and most importantly, a strong economic message.

Obama’s brilliant oratory – version 1.0 – has already reached every ear to which it can possibly appeal. We need Obama 2.0 to come out on Thursday night. He cannot play to the homefield fans yet again, and glory in the love of his most ardent supporters in both the national media and a potent sliver of the electorate. Nor can he rely solely on soaring but vague rhetoric. Hope won’t cut it. Obama’s speech on Thursday must be, in large portion, his promise revealed – the three or four major domestic policy initiatives of an Obama Administration, in addition to a sane and moral foreign policy.

6 Comments

  1. Convention speeches are some of the worst public speaking that occurs in the U.S. The only type of speeches that are worst are speeches during huge rallies on the Capital Mall. The speeches end up disjointed lines that are shouted for no reason and are meant to produce sound bites that will replayed on the news.

    The Standard speech is shout a couple of lines, crowd cheers, shout a couple of more lines.

    To think that William Jennings Bryan received anomination after a 50 minutes speech on monetary policy, it is easy to see how far convention speeches have fallen.

  2. When it comes to contrived and disjointed speeches, with correspondingly disproportianate applause, I think the GOP conventions have really taken the cake the last few times. I mean they have actually been painful and embarrasing episodes to watch. The DNC so far has been (not all, but much of it) actually worth watching – substantive, with inspired moments, and certainly not dependent on the BS the GOP has grown to depend on in recent history.

  3. sd said: “Convention speeches are some of the worst public speaking that occurs in the U.S. The only type of speeches that are worst are speeches during huge rallies on the Capital Mall.

    On this 45th Anniversary of Martin Luther Kings “I have a Dream” speech (one of Americas greatest political speeches delivered at a huge rally on the Mall) I have to wonder what the hell you're talking about superdestroyer.

  4. I like the way the different generations of the party have been represented — from old liberal lions like Carter and Kennedy to its stars of the future like Schweitzer. It feels like a family- a dysfunctional one, but a family- who will fight internally, then support each other against the opposition. I have been inspired by many moments in the convention.

    It will be interesting to see which moments in the Republican convention hit the high notes.

  5. SteveK,

    The speech you quote was decades ago. Trying watching some anti-war speech given since 2002. they are generally horrible from a style point of view.

    Americans do not have the ability anymore to give speeches in large auditoriums. Television is more important than the audience and the speech is thus aimed at television.

  6. I have been taking Ambien for 2 months now and it is awesome. Before I only got 1 or 2 hours sleep and now I sleep a full 8 hours. I feel refreshed and full of energy in the morning. Love it.

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