James Taranto rated Slick Willie’s Democratic National Convention speech by writing …
We have no idea. We know too much.
That is, we were working in political journalism during Mr. Clinton’s time in the White House, and at The Wall Street Journal for his last 4½ years. A couple of our bylined articles even appeared in the Journal’s six-volume “Whitewater” compilation.
We find it impossible to imagine how we’d have received the speech if we hadn’t followed politics so closely during the Clinton years, or if we were too young to remember them. (Someone who is 30 now was 12 when Monica Lewinsky became a public figure. Lewinsky herself turned 43 Sunday.) We are not the sort of voter to which the speech was intended to appeal.
Mr. Clinton certainly succeeded in not appealing to us. His overall theme was that he loves the Democratic nominee madly because she is such an astute analyst and maker of public policy. If it were a poem, it could have been titled “Ode to a Wonk.” The idea was doubly preposterous given the deep but (in the speech) unacknowledged strangeness of the Clinton marriage. But again, maybe it came across better to someone blessed by the good sense or youth not to have paid such close attention to the Clintons.
As for the substance, we were driven to distraction by what Mr. Clinton didn’t mention—namely, anything that wouldn’t have been politically expedient. In describing her time in the Senate, he noted that she was “the first senator in the history of New York ever to serve on the Armed Services Committee,” in which capacity she “tried to make sure people on the battlefield had proper equipment” and “worked for more extensive care for people with traumatic brain injury.” Her vote for the Iraq war? Down the memory hole.
While secretary of state, “she worked hard to get strong sanctions against Iran’s nuclear program.” He didn’t mention last year’s Iran nuclear deal, which she has touted before Democratic audiences but may wish to downplay with the general electorate.
“She backed President Obama’s decision to go after Osama bin Laden,” he said—a no-brainer if ever there was one. But Mr. Clinton didn’t mention the 2011 intervention in Libya, which President Obama reportedly undertook reluctantly, at Mrs. Clinton’s urging.
Mr. Clinton also left out the Trans Pacific Partnership, which Mrs. Clinton touted in her State Department memoir, Hard Choices—or at least in the hardcover edition. The topic was cut from the paperback, as the Washington Free Beacon reported last month, presumably because TPP has turned out to be unpopular and she claims she supports it no longer. Politico reports that Virginia’s Gov. Terry McAuliffe, “longtime best friend to the Clintons,” says he believes she’ll flip again if elected.
Of course Mr. Clinton said not a word about any of the past 40 years’ worth of Clinton scandals. Tellingly, he never uttered the names Clinton Foundation or Clinton Global Initiative, which surely would have merited a mention if he could defend them as genuinely charitable endeavors.
Here was our favorite bit:
Nineteen ninety-seven was the year Chelsea finished high school and went to college. We were happy for her, but sad for us to see her go. I’ll never forget moving her into her dorm room at Stanford. It would have been a great little reality flick. There I was in a trance just staring out the window trying not to cry, and there was Hillary on her hands and knees desperately looking for one more drawer to put that liner paper in.
Finally, Chelsea took charge and told us ever so gently that it was time for us to go. So we closed a big chapter in the most important work of our lives. As you’ll see Thursday night when Chelsea speaks, Hillary’s done a pretty fine job of being a mother.
And as you saw last night, beyond a shadow of a doubt so has Michelle Obama.
Now, fast forward. In 1999, Congressman Charlie Rangel and other New York Democrats urged Hillary . . . to run for the seat of retiring Senator Pat Moynihan.
Whoa, rewind! Did anything happen in 1998? (Spoiler for younger readers: That was when Mr. Clinton was impeached for perjury and obstruction of justice in connection with the Lewinsky affair and Paula Jones’s sexual-harassment lawsuit against him.)
We can’t exactly fault Mr. Clinton for these omissions any more than we can fault Donald Trump for not mentioning Trump University, his ribald comments to Howard Stern, or his own flip-flops on various policy questions. A political speech is meant to persuade, not to give a balanced and fully informed view of the subject. As noted above, we can’t even hazard a guess as to how effective Mr. Clinton’s speech was in reducing voters’ resistance to his wife. But surely it would have been less effective (not to mention even longer) had it included all the bits we mentioned.
It did occur to us after the speech, though, that Bill Clinton played an underappreciated part in setting the stage for Trump. As we observed yesterday, one of the Democrats’ strategies against the Republican nominee has been to present him as R-rated, somebody from whom you want to shield your children. As Michelle Obama put it Monday night, “we know that our words and actions matter … [to] children across this country.”
Many Nevertrump Republicans, and more than a few reluctantly pro-Trump ones, find this line of argument convincing. Trump is surely the most vulgar man ever nominated for the presidency of a major party.
But he would not be the first vulgarian president. That distinction belongs to Bill Clinton, the man whose sexual misconduct led to situations like the one described by Shawn Hubler in the Los Angeles Times in September 1998:
It was Friday midmorning. The house was quiet. The 6-year-old turned the TV on. The camera was zoomed in on someone’s computer, and there was a breathless voice: “Monica Lewinsky” … “Oval Office” … “sex with the president.”
“Mama,” she said in confusion, cuddling her kitten, “I thought the president was married. Does this mean Monica Lewinsky is having a baby now?”
I stood there, flat-footed.
“Mama, why do you have that look on your face? Did something bad happen?”
“Kinda. Not really. Let’s turn off this dumb TV. I’ll explain later, sweetie-pie.”
Mrs. Clinton’s political career was a reward for her role as her husband’s enabler. And most Republican politicians—who, as we observed last week, tend to be highly concerned about respectability—were determined to steer clear of the subject.
GOP voters turned to Trump in part because of his willingness to breach decorum and tell the ugly truth about the Clintons. And Trump turns out to be a plausible candidate in part because Bill Clinton so lowered the bar for presidential comportment. Though as Mr. Clinton demonstrated last night, at least he has long fingers.