Okay, it’s official. Hilary Clinton gave her acceptance speech and the Democratic National Convention is over. The campaigning begins tomorrow. Clinton and Kaine crisscross the country. Donald Trump tweets up a storm and Mike Pence bores folks to tears at random lunches. Clinton-Kaine ads blanket the airwaves. Trump never raised any money for that, so there are few if any Trump-Pence ads. Why bother? He knows his tweets work just as well, and now and then he’ll say something outrageous, the media will go wild, his own party will be embarrassed, and then he’ll walk it back – and then he’ll do it again. “I like to drown kittens” and then “I never said that” – reporters are horrible people – and so on and so forth. That’s worked for him, so everyone knows what to expect. There will be months of this.
As for what Clinton said in her acceptance speech, MSNBC’s Ari Melber summed it up well enough – “Shorter Hillary: I’m a wonk, I’m experienced, I’m a woman – and I’m not apologizing for any of it.”
Actually it was as bit more detailed than that:
Hillary Clinton formally accepted the Democratic Party’s nomination for president Thursday night, delivering a speech in which she said that the nation is in a “moment of reckoning” and aggressively cast Republican nominee Donald Trump as a divisive figure stoking fear across the country.
“He wants to divide us from the rest of the world, and from each other,” Clinton said. “He’s betting that the perils of today’s world will blind us to its unlimited promise.”
Clinton said Trump has “taken the Republican Party a long way – from ‘Morning in America’ to ‘Midnight in America,'” nodding to a famous Ronald Reagan ad campaign.
“He wants us to fear the future and fear each other,” said Clinton.
Of course she quoted FDR about the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – the audience chanted the words along with her – but note that she also appropriated Ronald Reagan. She can do his sunny optimism better than Donald Trump can. Donald Trump doesn’t even try. Republicans all across America winced. And she hit on “the woman thing” too:
“Standing here as my mother’s daughter, and my daughter’s mother, I’m so happy this day has come,” she said. Clinton added: “When any barrier falls in America, for anyone, it clears the way for everyone.”
What does Trump say to that? But the rest was what everyone expected:
Clinton stood defiantly against one of Trump’s signature proposals: a wall on the US-Mexico border.
“We will not build a wall,” she declared. “Instead we will build an economy where everyone who wants a good job can get one.”
Clinton moved through a list of Democratic priorities, speaking in broad strokes about the need to address climate change, raise the minimum wage and reform immigration and campaign finance laws.
She portrayed herself as an inclusive leader throughout the address, an argument she used to amplify her claims that Trump is an almost dictatorial figure with little interest in taking the views and contributions of average Americans into account.
She’s a “we the people” kind of gal – we’re stronger together. Trump is the “only I can fix it” guy – trust him. Take your choice, but chose wisely:
Seeking to raise doubts about Trump’s “temperament” to be commander-in-chief, Clinton mocked the mogul’s penchant for picking fights on social media.
“A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons,” she said.
Clinton warned that voters should take the controversial attacks that Trump lobs at face value, rejecting the arguments by some Republicans that in private, Trump is less abrasive.
“There is no other Donald Trump. This is it,” she said. “And in the end, it comes down to what Donald Trump doesn’t get: America is great because America is good.”
All of this did not make The Donald very happy:
Trump released a statement hours ahead of Clinton’s speech in an effort to undercut his rival by arguing that she and her top surrogates have glossed over the country’s most pressing problems.
“At Hillary Clinton’s convention this week, Democrats have been speaking about a world that doesn’t exist,” said Trump. “A world where America has full employment, where there’s no such thing as radical Islamic terrorism, where the border is totally secured, and where thousands of innocent Americans have not suffered from rising crime in cities like Baltimore and Chicago.”
He made her point for her, and David Graham notes the themes here:
“America’s strength doesn’t come from lashing out,” Hillary Clinton said Thursday, delivering a harsh rebuke to Donald Trump as she accepted the Democratic nomination for US president.
Clinton’s speech capped the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, where she made history as the first female presidential nominee of a major party. While Clinton did not skip over the historic aspect of her nomination, she spent most of her hour-long speech emphasizing two, interlocking themes: the importance of community and togetherness, and the fundamental unfitness of the Republican nominee for office. It was not so dark and ominous a speech as Trump’s own acceptance speech a week ago in Cleveland, but it was a negative speech: a warning against the danger posed to America by a Trump presidency.
“None of us can raise a family, build a business, heal a community, or lift a country totally alone,” she said, reprising a theme she introduced in “It Takes a Village” twenty years ago and echoing her campaign slogan, “Stronger Together.” She added later: “Every generation of Americans has come together to make our country freer, fairer, and stronger. None of us can do it alone.”
None of us can do it alone? That hits at the core of what Trump is offering:
The slogan, the latest of many, has never really seemed to take, but here, contrasted with Trump’s charismatic, semi-authoritarian approach, it began to come into its own. What Clinton was offering is, after a fashion, a small-c conservative viewpoint, emphasizing community, family, and cooperation. Clinton contrasted that vision with Trump’s, scorning a climactic phrase from his own acceptance speech: “I alone can fix it.”
She simply pointed out the absurdity of that:
“Isn’t he forgetting troops on the front lines?” she asked. “Police officers and fire fighters who run toward danger? Doctors and nurses who care for us? Teachers who change lives? Entrepreneurs who see possibilities in every problem? Mothers who lost children to violence and are building a movement to keep other kids safe? He’s forgetting every last one of us. Americans don’t say. ‘I alone can fix it.’ We say, ‘We’ll fix it together.'”
And that partially excuses her lack of charisma:
Clinton has never been a great speaker… “The truth is, through all these years of public service, the ‘service’ part has always come easier to me than the ‘public’ part,” she acknowledged Thursday. “I get it that some people just don’t know what to make of me.” Clinton’s Thursday address doesn’t seem likely to join the list of noteworthy blockbusters. It was a serviceable, workmanlike speech, short on soaring rhetoric.
Graham thinks that really doesn’t matter:
She didn’t really need to deliver such a moment. The obvious emotional peak of the night came some time earlier, as Khizr and Ghazala Khan stood on the rostrum. The Pakistani immigrants were the parents of Humayun Khan, a young Muslim American soldier killed while serving in Iraq in 2004. Speaking calmly and steadily but with great emotion, Khizr Khan addressed Trump, who has called for a moratorium on Muslims entering the United States, and more recently on immigration from areas with terrorism.
“Let me ask you: Have you even read the U.S. Constitution? I will gladly lend you my copy. In this document, look for the words ‘liberty’ and ‘equal protection of law,'” he said, brandishing a pocket edition. “Have you ever been to Arlington Cemetery? Go look at the graves of the brave patriots who died defending America – you will see all faiths, genders, and ethnicities.”
“You have sacrificed nothing and no one,” Khan said.
Khan’s pained, passionate words won praise from across the political world, especially among conservatives who reject Trump.
That’s why Fox News cut away from that speech and let their talking heads talk about other things, but something was up:
The speech was part of an evening of intense patriotism, even nationalism. A few wags suggested that the Democratic National Convention’s fourth night more closely resembled a Republican confab.
Of course it did:
Doug Elmets, a former aide in Ronald Reagan’s White House, delivered his own endorsement of Clinton. So did Jennifer Pierotti Lim, the founder of Republican Woman for Hillary.
Captain Florent Groberg, a Medal of Honor winner who was badly injured in Afghanistan, told the hall, “I’m here tonight not as a Democrat or a Republican. I’m here as a proud immigrant to this country, a proud veteran of the United States Army, and the proud recipient of our country’s highest military honor.”
Retired General John Allen, flanked by a rainbow platoon of veterans, delivered a fiery, martial speech. “From the battlefield to the capitals of our allies, friends, and partners, the free peoples of the world look to America as the last best hope for peace and for liberty for all humanity, for we are the greatest country on this planet,” Allen said. He added, in rebuke of Trump, “With her as our commander-in-chief, our international relations will not be reduced to a business transaction. Our armed forces will not become an instrument of torture, and they will not be ordered to engage in murder or carry out other illegal activities.”
Okay, assorted Republicans, the most recent Medal of Honor recipient, the retired four-star and his stage-full of decorated veterans – all were saying patriots belong here. The father of the young Muslim who gave his life for this country waved a copy of the Constitution at Donald Trump and suggested he might want to read it. Hillary may be a boring policy wonk who offers nothing but hard work and experience and carefulness, and basic decency with no frills (a long history of working to make people’s lives better and not talking about it) – but she knows her stuff. You don’t have to like her, but you can trust her. What does Trump offer?
This was devastating, as the conservative tweets show:
Ron Fournier: “Well done, @realDonaldTrump. You made Democrats a party of sunny patriotism and values.”
National Review editor Jonah Goldberg: “Why this convention is better: It’s about loving America. GOP convention was about loving Trump. If you didn’t love Trump, it offered nada.”
Steve Deace at Fox News: “So most of conservative media and the GOP spent the week rooting for Russia, and now the Democrats get to rally around the flag.”
Conservative Wisconsin radio host Charlie Sykes: “Snark aside: GOP needs to understand what is happening to them tonight…” and “Do you know how old I am? Old enough to remember when speeches like this would’ve been given at GOP convention… Not Dem one. Brutal.”
Rich Galen, press secretary for Dick Cheney: “How can it be that I am standing at my kitchen counter sobbing because of the messages being driven at the DNC? Where has the GOP gone?”
Hillary Clinton did her job. Her base is fired up and the Republicans are now split. She pretty much said to them come on in, the water’s fine, and a lot of your friends are here already.
Two of Andrew Sullivan’s readers note this:
The GOP must be shitting themselves. The Dems are taking everything – family values, patriotism, love of the military, the founding fathers and the constitution – in addition to everything they already own. If the GOP loses this election they’re left with… hate and ignorance.
Sullivan – “Don’t forget torture and trade wars” – and there’s the other reader:
The Democrats are doing something that was, until today, almost unthinkable: they’re reclaiming faith. For so long, religion has been the exclusive provenance of the Republicans. But with Trump as their figurehead, the Republicans have ceded that territory. And what’s amazing, and so very, very hopeful, is that in acknowledging Muslims as patriots, the Dems have cracked open the carapace of Christian evangelicalism.
I say this as an atheist: this is one of the most hopeful and promising elements of Hillary’s campaign.
David Brooks says the Democrats won the summer:
If you visited the two conventions this year you would have come away thinking that the Democrats are the more patriotic of the two parties – and the more culturally conservative.
Trump has abandoned the Judeo-Christian aspirations that have always represented America’s highest moral ideals: toward love, charity, humility, goodness, faith, temperance and gentleness.
He left the ground open for Joe Biden to remind us that decent people don’t enjoy firing other human beings.
Trump has abandoned the basic modesty code that has always ennobled the American middle class: Don’t brag, don’t let your life be defined by gilded luxuries.
He left the ground open for the Democrats to seize middle-class values with one quick passage in a Tim Kaine video – about a guy who goes to the same church where he was married, who taught carpentry as a Christian missionary in Honduras, who has lived in the same house for the last 24 years.
Trump has also abandoned the American ideal of popular self-rule.
He left the ground open for Barack Obama to remind us that our founders wanted active engaged citizens, not a government run by a solipsistic and self-appointed savior who wants everything his way.
Jonathan Chait puts that a different way, arguing that Hillary Clinton is running not just as the Democrat but as the candidate of democracy itself:
Since the start of the Reagan era, American politics has revolved around a war over the role of government in the economy. The Republican Party is set apart from major conservative parties across the world in its intensely ideological rejection of the state. And, despite his past rhetorical inconsistency, Donald Trump has faithfully adopted those positions. Yet that war has been largely absent not only from the rhetoric in Cleveland, which revolved around nationalism and identity, but in Philadelphia, too. The Democratic speakers have almost entirely ignored Trump’s proposals to deregulate carbon pollution and the finance industry, lavish tax cuts on the very rich, and snatch health insurance from 20 million people. This is not because Democrats lack the confidence in their ability to win an election centered on these issues. (They did it in 2012.) It is because they have chosen to reframe the election as a contest over the much larger question of the sanctity of American democracy.
President Obama had started that the previous evening:
He referred obliquely to the extraordinary stakes in the election when he lumped the Republican nominee in with authoritarian enemies – “anyone who threatens our values, whether fascists or communists or jihadists or homegrown demagogues.” Later in the address, he put a finer point on it: “It’s not just a choice between parties or policies, the usual debates between left and right. This is a more fundamental choice – about who we are as a people, and whether we stay true to this great American experiment in self-government.”
That is getting harder now:
Amazingly, even as Democrats painted Trump as an authoritarian menace, he continued to confirm the point on the ground. Weeks earlier, Trump’s campaign had banned the Washington Post, whose coverage it found objectionable, from campaign events. The ban had only symbolic meaning, though. It merely prevented reporters from working within the official media area. They could still attend speeches, just as any other person, and cover it from within the crowd. (The far more disturbing threat of retribution was Trump’s vow to retaliate against the newspaper’s owner, Jeff Bezos, through tax and regulatory policy.) But yesterday, the Trump campaign extended its ban from the symbolic to the real by preventing Post reporter Jose DelReal from entering a public speech by Trump’s vice-presidential nominee, Mike Pence. Private security first told DelReal he could not enter the rally with his laptop and phone. DelReal asked if other attendees were allowed to bring phones and was told, “Not if they work for the Washington Post.” DelReal placed the items in his car, returned, was patted down by security, and then still told he could not enter. Later, Pence’s staffers insisted it had all been a mistake, blaming overzealous local staffers. This sort of iterative, inconsistent, and even chaotic sequence of events fits a common pattern of how political authoritarians break down rules and norms.
This morning, Trump confirmed the impression of his authoritarianism yet again, in an interview with Fox News. Vladimir Putin, he offered, is “a better leader than Obama because Obama’s not a leader. He’s certainly doing a better job than Obama is.”
There he goes again, and this is getting scary:
One would expect a Republican to form a low impression of Obama’s leadership skills. But it is bizarre to compare the “leadership” of a democratically elected president to that of Putin, who leads his country by intimidating and suppressing its opposition. Obviously, an executive’s “leadership” is more likely to take hold if they can silence, imprison, or murder their opponents. Last December, when Trump praised Putin, Joe Scarborough pointed out that Putin had killed journalists. Trump replied, “He’s running his country and at least he’s a leader. You know, unlike what we have in this country.”
Trump’s frequent media appearances, for which he does little preparation, make him prone to strange rhetorical forays. But this is not one of them. In his scattered musings on politics over his career as a celebrity, Trump has meandered back and forth on nearly every issue – not only on things like abortion, health care, and taxes, but even immigration and trade, the supposed bedrocks of his worldview. The one consistent through-line of his beliefs is authoritarianism.
And his beliefs are a bit odd:
Alliances with dictators are a sadly normal feature of foreign policy in the United States and other democracies, and have run from the American Revolution, which relied on support from the French monarchy, through the World War II alliance with Stalin to the present day. But Trump does not merely praise dictators as necessary allies in order to stave off some greater evil. Their authoritarianism is precisely the quality he admires. After the Chinese government suppressed pro-democracy demonstrations in 1989, he said, “When the students poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it. Then they were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength. Our country is right now perceived as weak.” On Kim Jong-un, last January, he explained, “You gotta give him credit. How many young guys – he was like 26 or 25 when his father died – take over these tough generals, and all of a sudden… he goes in, he takes over, and he’s the boss.” On Saddam Hussein, he said this year, “They didn’t read them the rights. They didn’t talk. They were terrorists. Over.”
That’s who the guy is:
Trump has declared over and over, over a long period of time and with no incentive to do so, that strong leadership entails the suppression of dissent. He does not draw a distinction between the exercise of this form of leadership in a democracy and in a dictatorship. Instead, he compares the former unfavorably against the latter.
When you begin to take seriously Trump’s belief in “strength” as the measure of effective leadership, and the actions that flesh out those beliefs, then it overrides every other issue.
The election is not fundamentally about whether a Democrat will beat a Republican. It is about whether a small-d democrat will defeat an authoritarian, and her election should be the cause not only of Democrats but anybody who cares about democracy.
Lots of folks are saying that now, and more will be after this convention, like Josh Marshall:
Set aside whatever quarrels we have with Putin. He is unquestionably an autocrat who has usurped virtually all power in his country, rendered all but the most marginal media subservient to the state, jailed major political opponents, especially those wealthy enough to have independent bases of power – or worse. Putin didn’t invent autocracy and he’s certainly not the worst autocrat the world has ever seen. But he is an almost textbook embodiment autocracy, complete with his own mid-range early 21st century cult of personality. That is one version of leadership. But it’s more like domination. It’s not one that anyone in a democracy or someone who seeks to lead a democracy should see anything to compliment in or as a model of leadership to emulate.
In her own way, Hillary Clinton just pointed that out. She offered an alternative model of leadership, the kind that is used in democracies. She may be a tedious wonk, and a woman, but she gets the democracy thing. She just made the election about that. You have to draw the line somewhere.