CHARLOTTE - The second night of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte started with a whimper but ended with a bang. Most of the speakers were less inspiring than those of opening night and the novelty of kicking Mitt Romney was wearing thin, but Bill Clinton was the main attraction, so no one really cared. And Clinton delivered, in spades.
It wasn’t his voice, which was a bit strained, or his famous homespun delivery, which is, after all, famous. No, Clinton achieved the nearly impossible task of surpassing the already unrealistic expectations that preceded his performance by delivering the total speech, the end-all and be-all argument against the Republicans and for Barack Obama’s reelection, the manifesto that Democrats had sorely needed to go out and conquer the world.
Michelle Obama was a tough act to follow, and it’s hard to imagine anyone in contemporary American politics who was up to the task, except for Clinton. She inspired the delegates with an emotional portrayal of Obama as loving husband and father but it was he who supplied the rational and moral underpinning of Obama’s entire presidency.
Rather than the tepid self-centered endorsement that some had feared, Clinton’s comprehensive and well-rounded argument was so compelling he may have convinced even Obama himself that things were better than they seemed. The genuinely warm hug given by the current president to his predecessor at the end of his speech was testament to Obama’s appreciation for, and perhaps even relief at, Clinton’s perfect speech, no small compliment from a man who considers himself a true connoisseur of perfection.
Clinton demolished the litany of Republican complaints against Obama without sounding mean or vindictive. He extolled Obama’s economic performance – no mean feat, this – while ridiculing Romney’s assertions to know any better. He turned on the charm, lit up his audience – especially, though not exclusively, its female portion – and provided irrefutable proof of his uniquely beloved and respected place in contemporary America. Even the pundits, who had thought to take Clinton down a notch or two to balance their gushing reviews of Michelle Obama from the night before, exploded with a new and even bigger wave of appreciation and adoration for the man known affectionately as Bubba and Big Dog.
I had thought of using a baseball metaphor, something like “Democrats are 2 for 2 but Obama still needs a home run” but then someone beat me to it and wrote of a home run derby, and that seemed more accurate. Michele Obama and Clinton both hit it out of the park, and though they did a great service for Obama, they also set an impossibly high bar and increased pressure on him to come up with a grand slam that would eclipse their own impeccable performances. If he doesn’t rise up the task, the Convention could very much end on a note of failure and disappointment.
So perhaps Mr. Cool, as the president is known, is now uncharacteristically sweating and nervous in advance of his prime time performance tonight. Republicans, by the way, should be in a similar state of apprehension, because if Obama outclasses both his classy wife and his polished peer, he will be bringing himself that much closer to his coveted second term.
“If I forget thee, O Jerusalem” the Book of Psalms says, but what can you do, the Democrats forgot, sending ripples of displeasure among Jewish Democrats that threatened to turn into a tsunami of criticism against Obama among Jewish voters at large. Realizing somewhat belatedly that he was facing imminent catastrophe, Obama commanded the party, more or less, to railroad a return to the status quo ante of the 2008 platform and to restore both God and Jerusalem to their proper place, much to the chagrin of many if not most of the delegates on the floor of the Time Warner Arena in Charlotte.
So now one must decide which Hebrew expression to prefer: Democratic optimists will prefer the one that says that “a clever man is one who extricates himself from a trap that a wise man would never have fallen into”, so the damage is under control, but if you’re a pessimist you might prefer the one that goes “a thousand wise men can’t salvage a stone that a fool has thrown into a well”, meaning that the damage is done and cannot be contained.
In any case, news of Obama’s decision to restore the original 2008 language elicited an audible sigh of relief from the two dozen Jewish participants in a workshop on the Jewish vote organized by the National Jewish Democratic Council. It was, to all intents and purposes, an acknowledgement that there was an elephant in the room, and that it had finally left.
Because if you forget Jerusalem, as Psalms 137 teaches us, your right hand forgets its cunning and your tongue cleaves to the roof of your mouth, an inauspicious development for Obama on the very same day that he is slated to make yet another “speech of a lifetime”.
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