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DNC delegates make history, and Bill Clinton draws portrait of Hillary as change maker

The delegates’ nomination of Hillary Clinton was a big-time breakthrough, although by now it had come to seem inevitable.

Former President Bill Clinton speaking during the second night of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.
REUTERS/Mark Kauzlarich

Something historic happened last night. A woman — Hillary Rodham Clinton — was nominated for president by one of the major U.S. political parties. It’s a big-time breakthrough, although by now it had come to seem inevitable. But I’m old enough to know how close to unimaginable it would have been not that long ago, and enough of a feminist to know how big a deal it is. If Clinton wins the election, it will be even bigger.

“The day after she’s elected, everyone will be a feminist,” said Eleanor Smeal, president of Feminist Majority, interviewed on the convention floor after the roll call.

“I hope on my tombstone, it will say: ‘Roz Wyman was a mother and she helped get Hillary Clinton elected in 2016,’ ” said Roz Wyman, 85, a California delegate. Wyman didn’t mention this, but Wikipedia reveals that she is a long-time crusader for women’s rights, became, in 1953, the youngest person ever and just the second of her gender elected to the Los Angeles City Council, and attended her first Democratic National Convention in 1952 and every one since then except one.

Klobuchar’s message

Minnesota’s senior U.S. senator, Amy Klobuchar (the first woman senator from our fair state), got a full-fledged speaking slot and used it to say, among other things:

I’m here to make the case for a leader who … is focused on security: Security for our country, our economy, and our democracy. A leader who knows we are all more secure when women have the opportunity to lead with their heads high and their strides strong. That leader is Hillary Clinton. She sees a world where girls are not captured and sold but are fearless and bold; where they lead, not follow. And where when someone tells a young woman, “You fight like a girl,” her answer is, “Yes, I do. And I’m proud to be that girl.”

(Full text of Klobuchar’s remarks here.)

In addition to a celebration of the historic nature of the nomination, Tuesday night was an evening-long infomercial too, with the still sore feelings of some of the Sandersistas drifting further off the main stage.

The main act: Bill

Other than the roll call, which made official an outcome that has been clear for a couple of months, and a lot of pretty cool videos and show-biz, the main act of the evening was the speech by Clinton’s husband, Bill, himself a former president (as if you didn’t know that), which added another layer of historicity (first-ever former president to make a speech on behalf of the presidential candidacy of his own spouse).

Bill Clinton is a gifted speaker. And I believe he was a pretty good president, although much of the good stuff from those years is seriously undermined by his personal failings, which included some staggering shortcomings in the category of faithful husband.

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For me, this unacknowledged piece of the back story seriously undermined the effectiveness of Bill Clinton’s otherwise touching performance. It purported to be a love story, in which he met a girl, fell in love with her, had to ask her three times to get her to marry him, and grew to love and respect her more and more through the years. To leave out the humiliations he inflicted on his wife through his many, many infidelities lent a phony ring to what otherwise would have been a marvelous testimony to a woman he knows well and admires. Having gotten that off my chest, I’ll say no more about the missing back story.

The part of the story he told was of a woman who is “the best darn change maker I ever met in my entire life.”

“Change maker” was a word and a theme he returned to again and again. As if by some miracle of choreography, when he started calling his wife a “change maker,” cameras panned the convention floor, where delegates were waving signs with “Change Maker” printed on them.

On the PBS commentariat panel, liberal columnist Mark Shields suggested that the “change maker” stuff was supposed help the Dem ticket with a public that may be reluctant to elect Clinton if they think she represents a continuation of the policies of the Obama administration. I guess this builds on the belief, which I think is overdone, that after two terms of one party, a change-hungry public is likely to prefer the nominee of the non-incumbent party.

Takes on the GOP’s image of Hillary

Bill Clinton told story after story in which his wife brought positive change to problem areas that crossed her path. “How can you square all this with what you heard at the Republican Convention? he asked. “You can’t. Because one [version of Hillary Clinton’s life work] is real, and the other is made up. You just have to decide which is which, my fellow Americans.”

The possibility that his wife’s life story is one of using government to improve lives, in Arkansas and everywhere else she has lived and worked, is awkward for Republicans, Bill Clinton said, because, “If you win elections on the theory that government is always bad and will mess up a two-car parade, a real change maker represents a real threat.”

“So your only option is to create a cartoon, a cartoon alternative,” Clinton said, referring to Republican portrayals of her career. But he said that the Democrats had figured out which version was the real Hillary: “Good for you because earlier today you nominated the real one.”

Equal time: Channel surfing after the convention, I heard CNN’s pro-Trump panelist Jeffrey Lord pick up on Bill Clinton’s “cartoon” theme, and flipped it, thus:

I think I can safely say that on the left side of the spectrum, including some moderate Republicans, Donald Trump has been made into a cartoon, which most assuredly, he is not. … If you run for president of the United States, that will happen.