President Obama, with herculean help last night from supporting players, has put Hillary Clinton on the high road to November.
What we witnessed last night was not only a Springsteen-level performance (Obama at the top of his rhetorical game) capped by climactic stagecraft (Clinton and Obama enjoined, black man and white woman, a leaders’ tableau that was unthinkable when this nation was forged), but, just as importantly, the Democrats raided the Republican pantry and took all the thematic goodies. They captured the flag.
Pro-patriotism. Pro-optimism. Pro-military. And thanks to an improvised riff by indy guest Michael Bloomberg, pro-sanity.
What a role reversal — made possible by Donald Trump’s dystopic wall-building, race-dividing doom and gloom. Does this mean that Clinton is guaranteed to win? Of course not. But cornering the market on traditional values makes it a helluva lot easier to seize the center, which is where presidential elections are won.
The rhetorical evidence was obvious long before Obama took the stage. Vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine is too earnest and square for the Twitter snark squad — he took a beating on social media last night — but he’s not on the ticket to wow the self-styled sophisticates. He’s a Middle America communicator, with his extended odes to faith (his stint at a Jesuit high school; Catholic voters are reportedly up for grabs, thanks to their distaste for Trump), to family (everyone got a shout out, most notably his Marine son — “Semper Fi!”), and to work (his dad was a welder). He even said it, in two languages: “Faith, family, and work.”
Joe Biden, whom Kaine hopes to replace, was incensed that Trump keeps running down America — because, hey, “We are America, second to none! We own the finish line!” In fact, “the 21st century will be the American century!” In my experience, watching and attending conventions, it was always the Republicans who sewed themselves in the flag and rebuked the opposition for sounding anti-American. But thanks to Trump, an ill-tempered charlatan who, only yesterday, invited a hostile foreign power to hack our homeland, Biden had the rhetorical running room to argue that it’s Clinton who will keep this country safer.
We heard the same thing from retired Rear Admiral John Hutson, who said of Trump’s hacking invitation, “That’s not ‘law and order,’ that’s criminal intent.” And we heard it from ex-CIA and Defense chief Leon Panetta, who has served nine presidents in both parties: “Trump took Russia’s side. He asked Russia to interfere in America’s politics …. As someone who was responsible for protecting this nation from cyberattacks, it’s inconceivable to me that any presidential candidate could be so irresponsible.”
And to think that the GOP once forged its Cold War identity as the party that would be vigilantly tough on Russia. Now it’s the GOP nominee who’s soft on Russia, and the Democrats are talking tough. I feel like I’ve gone through the looking glass.
Then there was Bloomberg, the ex-New York mayor, ex-Democrat, ex-Republican, and current independent. He showed up to endorse Clinton because he said we need “a sane, competent person … who is mature enough to reach out for advice” and best guide “the greatest country in the world, the United States of America.” A “sane” person? As opposed to the person who strikes him as insane?
So the ground was well-plowed for Obama, who, in his inimitable way, weaponized themes for the autumn fight.
He celebrated traditional American values, as practiced by his white Kansas grandparents (the subtextual attack on Trump was hard to miss): “My grandparents explained that they didn’t like show-offs. They didn’t admire braggarts or bullies. They didn’t respect mean-spiritedness, or folks who were always looking for shortcuts in life. Instead, they valued traits like honesty and hard work. Kindness and courtesy. Humility, responsibility.”
He celebrated the American military that Trump has denounced as a disaster: “Apparently, he doesn’t know the men and women who make up the strongest fighting force the world has ever known. He suggests America is weak. He must not hear the billions of men, women, and children, from the Baltics to Burma, who still look to America to be the light of freedom, dignity, and human rights.”
He celebrated Ronald Reagan (who Trump never mentioned last week): “Ronald Reagan called America ‘a shining city on a hill.’ Donald Trump calls it ‘a divided crime scene’ that only he can fix.” And he appropriated Reagan’s upbeat sunniness: “I am more optimistic about America than ever before …. We still believe in the promise of this great nation …. The American dream is something no wall can ever contain.”
He celebrated everyday American greatness: “What I’ve seen, more than anything, is what is right with America. I see people working hard and starting businesses; people teaching kids and serving our country.” (What is right with America … That couldve been Mitt Romney in 2012.)
Most notably, he celebrated patriotism and painted Trump as the alien interloper: “What makes us American, what makes us patriots, is what’s in here [touching his heart]. That’s what matters. That’s why we can take the food and music and holidays and styles of other countries, and blend it into something uniquely our own. That’s why we can attract strivers and entrepreneurs from around the globe to build new factories and create new industries here. That’s why our military can look the way it does, every shade of humanity, forged into common service. That’s why anyone who threatens our values, whether fascists or communists or jihadists or homegrown demagogues, will always fail in the end.”
We heard that. “Homegrown demaogues will always fail in the end.”
No wonder so many conservatives and Republicans tweeted their angst in the wee hours. Rich Lowry, the longtime conservative commentator, said: “American exceptionalism and greatness, shining city on hill, founding documents, etc. — they’re trying to take all our stuff.” To which fellow right-wing pundit Ramesh Ponnuru replied: “GOP gave it away.”
@RichLowry GOP gave it away
— Ramesh Ponnuru (@RameshPonnuru) July 28, 2016
Indeed they did. And HIllary Clinton is poised to run with it.