The night belonged, clearly, to Bill Clinton. In the preceding hour we saw instant celebrity Sandra Fluke, a droning Costco exec and an Elizabeth Warren who to my surprise got weakening applause as she went on. Clinton spoke for nearly an hour, as he used to in State of the Union addresses, ad libbed and added new riffs to his text. He was plainly enjoying every minute.
What to make of Clinton’s speech. My reaction, as he went on, is that he was doing a repair job–and that he was trying to repair what the Obama strategists or Clinton himself think are Barack Obama’s weaknesses.
So he started off describing Obama as a compromiser, one who cooperates rather than reflexively opposing. Most of the rest of the convention proceedings and Team Obsma’s negative campaigning tend to undercut this claim. Obama’s unfavorable ratings have been going up. Both Clinton and Michelle Obama tried to get his favorables up. On this I think Michelle Obama had more success.
Nearly half Of Clinton’s speech was devoted to rebutting three Republican claims that the Obama folks and/or Clinton think are hurting Obama. Clinton kept telling the audience to pay attention and listen; he was trying to instill talking points. The first issue was the $716 billion Obamacare cut from Medicare. The second was the welfare waivers issued by HHS. The third was Republican claim that Obama’s fiscal policies will produce a debt crisis. Team Romney can see what Team Obama is scared of.
Clinton is better suited to the task of instilling talking points than any other Democratic speaker I can think of. But, as he implicitly conceded in his asides, this stuff can get complicated and incomprehensible. Did party activists and sympathizers sit still and take it all in? The Obama campaign in giving Clinton such a lead role risks making Obama look small by comparison. But evidently the campaign strategists think there are some serious weaknesses they need to shore up.