He has spoken at every Democratic National Convention since 1980, including that 1988 ultramarathon that drew some boos but made sure voters would remember him when the next election rolled around. (Spoiler alert: They did.) But this time was different for Bill Clinton: He was making a case to Americans about why they should elect his wife as the next President of the United States. His thesis sentence: “She’s the real one.”
POTUS 42’s 42-minute speech tonight at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia was funny, jaunty and deeply personal. And Day 2 at the DNC was a night of people talking about newly minted Dem nominee in personal terms — from a Cantor Fitzgerald staffer who survived 9/11 and a first responder who worked at the site to her longtime friends and colleagues in government. But of course no other person can offer deeper insight to the real Hillary Clinton that her husband of 40 years.
Bill Clinton delivered with his first words.
“In the spring of 1971, I met a girl,” the former president said of the potential future one. From there he talked about her “magnetic” personality. “After the class, I followed her out, intending to introduce myself. I got close enough to touch her back, but I couldn’t do it. Somehow I knew this would not be just another tap on the shoulder and I might be starting something I couldn’t stop.”
He continued talking about their first meeting. And the crowd gobbled it up. At one point, he said about her, “I was so impressed and surprised that, whether you believe it or not, momentarily I was speechless.”
Bill Clinton went on about meeting Hillary Rodham’s family — including her “crusty conservative father” — after he drove her from school in Arkansas to Illinois and then talked about her early days in public service. About her work with minorities, kids, the poor and other folks who’ve been underserved by government.
Ever the charismatic orator, he stayed on message all night. And those kinds of anecdotes and reminders of his wife’s compassion have been sorely missing on the 2015-16 campaign trail amid cries of “Crooked Hillary” and “Lock her up!” Then he went on to describe how he proposed to her then talked her out of it — because he thought she should run for office. Gold.
All this came as Bill name-checked as many cities and states and their famous people as he possibly could — an old pro working the room.
He moved on the future former first couple becoming parents, to daughter Chelsea. “Hillary first and foremost was a mother,” hubby said. “She became, as she often said, our family’s designated worrier, born with an extra responsibility gene. Truth is, we rarely disagreed on parenting, although she did believe that I had gone a little over the top when I took a couple of days off with Chelsea to watch all six Police Academy movies back to back.”
He continued to splice together family stories with political ones, always stressing his wife’s drive, perseverance and unwillingness “to settle for the status quo.” The former president espoused her accomplishments and credentials, eschewing the easy digs at Donald Trump; in fact, he didn’t name the Republican nominee by name — though he got in a couple of digs at the Clinton nemeses across the aisle.
“How does this square with the things that you heard at the Republican convention?” he asked at the 35-minute mark. “What’s the difference in what I told you and what they said? How do you sure it? You can’t — one is real, the other is made up.
“You just have to decide which is which, my fellow Americans. The real one had done more positive change-making before she was 30 than many public officials do in a lifetime in office. … Good for you because earlier today you nominated the real one.”
Here are some lines that came about midway but could have ended the speech:
“This is a really important point for you to take out of this convention. If you believe in making change from the bottom up, if you believe the measure of change is how many people’s lives are … better, you know it’s hard and some people think it’s boring. Speeches like this are fun. Actually doing the work is hard. So people say, ‘Well, we need to change. She’s been around a long time. She sure has, and she’s been worth every single year she has put into making people’s lives better.
“I can tell you this: if you were sitting where I’m sitting and you hear what I have heard at every dinner conversation, every lunch conversation and on every long walk, you would say this is woman has never been satisfied with the status quo on anything. She has always wanted to move the ball forward. That’s just show she is.”