As speechmaking goes, the Democratic convention in Denver is about to scale new heights. Teddy Kennedy and Michelle Obama on Monday delivered what all observers qualify as poignant and inspirational addresses. Last night, Hillary Clinton clearly delivered a speech of presidential caliber. Not to be outdone, we can expect former President Bill Clinton to be at the top of his game. Clinton arguably the best speaker in American politics largely due to his conversational style and pedagogical skills will be delivering a speech that will make the case for Obama against McCain and present the arguments contrasting the economic policies of the Democrats and the Republicans. Senator Joe Biden, the presumptive vice-presidential nominee will complete the evening and in all likelihood will convince the delegates that he is indeed a solid choice.
Two nights and two Clintons, it will be a hard act to follow. We can expect former President Clinton to outline how more productive his economic policies were in his eight years in office than George W. Bush’s policies were since 2001. President Clinton will also make the case for America’s standing in the world, one where her allies looked up to the President for leadership and direction. Expect Clinton to show the benefits of multilateral diplomacy over the Bush doctrine. Finally, it will be an occasion for the former President to draw the parallel between his candidacy in 1992 and that of Barack Obama. Back then, Bill Clinton was the change candidate. Just like John F. Kennedy, his resume was certainly modest when compared to other potential contenders. Yet, Clinton then was able to appeal to idealism and present a new vision. His experience in economic matters and foreign affairs was nearly as limited as that of Obama, but once in office he had the intelligence and the capacity to grow and represent the most successful Democratic presidency since FDR. This would be an effective way to demonstrate that Obama is ready to lead to counter the Republican spin of the last month. It may not be enough but it will go a long way.
Tomorrow Barack Obama will deliver his acceptance speech. We know he is capable of oratorical heights and speaking before 75000 people will probably give him an added incentive. Up to now, Barack Obama has never failed when it comes to delivering an inspirational speech. But inspiration will not be enough. This convention aimed at uniting the Democrats places an added responsibility on his shoulders. Unity is a two-way street, those who want it and those who give it. The Clintons most likely will have done their share at the end of the evening. Then, it will be up to Senator Obama to complete the process.
We can be certain he will say the right things about the Democratic Party and some of his predecessors. He will be generous and inclusive regarding Hillary and he will possibly be more cogent in drawing the distinctions between McCain and himself. He will most likely demonstrate as never before that he adheres to basic American values where justice, tolerance, and love of liberty are part of his DNA. He will speak of his family and will, in his own words, talk about his life story and that of his running mate Joe Biden. However, if he wants to complete this convention on the highest possible note of unity, he must not only acknowledge the importance of the Clintons to American life. He must above all celebrate their legacy.
Bill Clinton has been the most successful Democratic President since WWII and he led the most prosperous economic period in the history of America. When he left office there were surpluses and the debt was being reduced, America’s economic leadership in the world was beyond question, and respect for American ideals shared by its allies. That’s the legacy. It’s worth celebrating. It’s now up to Obama.