Having seen and heard the first two nights of the Democratic Convention I plan on attending a watch party tonight for the third and final night. And I must admit that my attention was seriously grabbed in particular by the speeches of Michelle Obama and San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro. Their facility with talk, timing and presence was quite powerful and engaging. I have to say that I really enjoyed those speeches, they were the work on consummate professionals. And we will now watch the development of Julian Castro whose national political career appears to have dawned at this convention.
And along comes Bill Clinton, always fun to listen to. Who knows what payments, compromises and promises were spent to acquire his support and give this speech. Still popular some 11 plus years after his presidency, having survived costly and drawn out efforts by Republicans to bring him down, we now have the star power of the Democratic Party endorsing and rallying for Barack Obama.
I did enjoy his speech but not in the way that I enjoyed the aforementioned ones. Clinton’s speech had the familiar time-worn (but still quite functional) clichés given by someone with whom we have become all too familiar in those last 11 years or so. What I enjoyed was the tuned and timed volleys of carefully planned rhetoric delivered by the Democratic figurehead most likely to hold our attention. It was not a fresh speech revealing an exciting new prospect for the party like Castro. It was not the moment in the bright spotlight in which the first lady gets to show off her mettle as she did so well. It was a functional speech which I think achieved its purpose. Even RNC strategist Alex Castellano said that he thought the Clinton speech all but elected Obama for a second term.
But I can’t let go of at least a note of skepticism. Great and truly functional as Clinton’s speech was it was also one of the best examples of the P.T. Barnum style politics which dominate today’s political scene. Yes, Clinton did quote facts and there were carefully researched references to Obama, etc. But the gist of this speech is the man who gave it, not so much the content. People who won’t be able to quote a single concept from Clinton’s speech will vote for Obama because they heard/saw him give this speech.
Don’t get me wrong. I am glad that Clinton gave that speech and I hope to see Barack Obama re-elected in November. And perhaps, in our attention deficit laden world of poorly educated citizenry, the P.T. Barnum approach is the only viable one. But I hope that the things that drive people to vote in this election (whether Republican or Democrat) are not ultimately the legacy of our politics. I hope that this is only a means to an end, that of electing someone who will make true and lasting social change, not someone who just puts on a good show. And that remains to be seen.