Before we get started, we need to park our jaded cynicism and celebrate the fact that 96 years after women finally won the right to vote, a woman has won the right to campaign as a presidential nominee. Anyone failing to grasp the significance of this moment needs to take a course in remedial history.
And how perversely fitting it is that the first woman nominee will face off this fall against a man who has referred to women as “pigs.” The highest glass ceiling has yet to be shattered, and the process will not be pretty. Donald Trump is a misogynistic demagogue fueled by excess testosterone and extreme narcissistic need. He stands athwart history, threatening to wreck a proud American moment. Making him a loser is a patriotic imperative.
Hillary Clinton knows it will take a village. That’s why her Democratic convention took great pains to broaden her electoral coalition. She’s obviously intent on nailing down the Bernie Sandernistas – the middle third of her acceptance speech was a list of progressive policy aspirations – but the polls say that most of them are poised to back her in November. What she really wants, to maximize her victory prospects, is a robust swing-state turnout from voters who normally lean Republican.
There were repeated paeans to Reaganesque patriotism and optimism. There were guest Republicans at the podium, explaining why they can’t stomach Trump. There was sumptuous praise for “our national treasure” – America’s soldiers (Trump, in his acceptance speech, never bothered to mention them). And there were frequent shout-outs to God and faith – most notably, from Clinton (her Methodist credo while growing up: “Do all the good you can, for all the people you can, in all the ways you can, as long as ever you can”) and from running-mate Tim Kaine (a devout Catholic who sings in his church choir).
What she hopes to do – in crucial states like Ohio and Pennsylvania (where she and Kaine will travel by bus this weekend) – is to ensure victory by drawing a decent share of Trump-averse Republican voters. Particularly Republican-leaning white suburban women. Moderates with kids.
That’s where her deep convictions mesh with her political calculations. There was heavy emphasis, all week long and especially last night, on children’s issues. Clinton has worked those issues for more than 40 years – in her words last night, “step by step, year by year, sometimes even door by door.” It was a way for her fill out her self-portrait as an empathetic real person, in contrast with her one-dimensional rep as a so-called “establishment insider.”
She argued that government can be a force for good, not just a distant abstraction; that even though she’s a self-confessed policy wonk, she puts a human face on policy. This, too, was designed to resonate with Republican-leaning women: “It’s true, I sweat the details of policy – whether we’re talking about the exact level of lead in drinking water in Flint, Michigan, the number of mental health facilities in Iowa, or the cost of your prescription drugs. Because it’s not just a ‘detail’ if it’s your kid, if it’s your family. It’s a big deal. And it should be a big deal to your president.”
And again last night, as we saw all week, Clinton talked a lot about the aftermath of 9/11, about the work she did for the first responders who got sick from the air at Ground Zero. Her use of 9/11 was quite different from Rudy Giuliani’s use of 9/11 at the Republican Convention. He basically said that Clinton is a menace who will unleash hellfire on America; Clinton invoked 9/11 to describe how she worked the system to help the victims of terrorism.
That dovetailed with her broader effort to depict herself as a steady hand in times of crisis. Nothing in this campaign is more important. Americans are jittery about sudden violence at home and abroad – in her words, “from Baghdad to Kabul, to Nice and Paris and Brussels, to San Bernardino and Orlando” – and I well recall that when terrorism was high on the agenda in the so-called “national security” election of 2004, white suburban women, renamed “security moms,” voted heavily for George W. Bush.
Which is why, last night, these Clinton passages were critical:
People are anxious and looking for reassurance. Looking for steady leadership. You want a leader who understands we are stronger when we work with our allies around the world and care for our veterans here at home. Keeping our nation safe and honoring the people who do it will be my highest priority.
I’m proud that we put a lid on Iran’s nuclear program without firing a single shot – now we have to enforce it, and keep supporting Israel’s security. I’m proud that we shaped a global climate agreement – now we have to hold every country accountable to their commitments, including ourselves. I’m proud to stand by our allies in NATO against any threat they face, including from Russia.
I’ve laid out my strategy for defeating ISIS. We will strike their sanctuaries from the air, and support local forces taking them out on the ground. We will surge our intelligence so that we detect and prevent attacks before they happen. We will disrupt their efforts online to reach and radicalize young people in our country. It won’t be easy or quick, but make no mistake – we will prevail.
Then came the fun part. Correction: It would be fun, were it not so serious:
Now Donald Trump says, and this is a quote, “I know more about ISIS than the generals do.”
No, Donald. You don’t.
….Ask yourself: Does Donald Trump have the temperament to be Commander-in-Chief? Donald Trump can’t even handle the rough-and-tumble of a presidential campaign. He loses his cool at the slightest provocation. When he’s gotten a tough question from a reporter. When he’s challenged in a debate. When he sees a protestor at a rally.
Imagine him in the Oval Office facing a real crisis. A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.
I thought that was the line of the night, the potential deal-breaker for anyone with common sense who’s tempted to vote Trump. Until, moments later, she said this:
I can’t put it any better than Jackie Kennedy did after the Cuban Missile Crisis. She said that what worried President Kennedy during that very dangerous time was that a war might be started – not by big men with self-control and restraint, but by little men – the ones moved by fear and pride.
A little man moved by fear and pride. The perfect definition of a bully. And when Clinton was a kid, her mother told her how to handle a bully: “She never let me back down from any challenge. When I tried to hide from a neighborhood bully, she literally blocked the door. ‘Go back out there,’ she said. And she was right. You have to stand up to bullies.”
That’s the only way Clinton can clinch this historic moment – by exhibiting the fortitude that got her this far. As she put it, while apparently channeling Sinatra, “More than a few times, I’ve had to pick myself up and get back in the game.”
Game on, sister.