The Big History Tuesday night came when Hillary Clinton was declared the Democratic nominee for president, the first woman to scale that summit. The convention also made some Little History later when the first ever – what? – “nominee’s husband” and potentially the first First Gentleman addressed a national convention.
The Big History was momentous, destined to be a chapter in the history books.
Tuesday’s nomination, though, was a moment in a formal ritual; it was dramatic, not hugely emotional. Hillary wasn’t in the house.
The Big Emotion and the Big Celebration will come Thursday night, when Hillary Clinton gives what could be the most important performance of her long public career, and of her life.
So Tuesday night, it was that Little History that provided much of the drama, heart and focus.
The long, tumultuous and mysterious story of the Clintons is material for Tolstoy or Fitzgerald. There’s nothing in American political history to compare. A few minutes after 10 p.m. on the second night of the party convention amidst the weirdest modern campaign, in walks a former president – a beloved rogue, a smooth talker, a political savant – to tell the story of his wife’s life and work. A most exotic spectacle it was.
“In the spring of 1971, I met a girl,” he began and the maestro had the crowd in his palm.
He didn’t give a speech. He talked, intimately, as if he was telling stories at his dinner table. He told stories of their romance and marriage, weaving them with stories of the good works, charitable missions and social policy projects that filled her life. It was a homey, vivid brag about a chronic do-gooder, a Girl Scout, a workaholic devoted to her daughter above all; it was a stunning, convincing contrast to the caricature of Hillary as dragon lady that’s now cast in concrete.
He meandered for sure, but pivoted to a subtle explanation of why she is the woman for the moment.
“She's the best darn change-maker I've ever met in my entire life,” Clinton said. "This woman has never been satisfied with the status quo. ... She always wants to move the ball forward. That is just who she is."
She is a doer by nature, her husband said, programmed to try to improve the real world, not to protect the status quo or promise the moon. Subtext: Trump is all ego, all talk and no heart.
Perhaps it wasn’t the best of Bill Clinton. But I couldn’t take my eyes off him. I suspect his talk will resonate for those who listened.
Bill Clinton’s speech was the culmination of a very well-crafted program that laid out Hillary Clinton’s personal story and professional accomplishments in discreet chapters, with varied, eloquent speakers from politics and popular culture and well-produced video vignettes. The chorus of the show, fitting on the day a woman finally won a party nomination, was the power, progress and plight of women and, to a lesser degree, children.
It was a purposeful, sophisticated and finely crafted evening of political persuasion. It was set up nicely early in the day when Bernie Sanders moved that Hillary Clinton be nominated by acclamation. The inside project of soothing Sanders supporters gave way to the more important outside project of talking to independents, discouraged Democrats and the eclectic horde of Never Trumpers.
The Democrats’ first night beat the Republican opener in the Nielsen ratings by some 3 million viewers. That’s good news for the Democrats, surprising given the intense interest in Trump.
After two days of this political All-Star Game, Team Hillary has committed few errors, scored a respectable number of runs and played with discipline. Michelle Obama is still the MVP. There’s still half a season to play, incredibly and unbearably.