PHILADELPHIA – Bill Clinton wisely began his speech by telling the oft-told tale of how he met Hillary Rodham after staring at her in the Yale Law School library, leaving him “speechless.”
Their courtship isn’t going to convince anyone to cast aside their doubts about the woman who became first lady, senator, secretary of State and now the nominee for the office he left 16 years ago.
As he went into standard bio stuff about Hillary’s early work on children’s issues, he would go into aw-shucks mode and say, “Meanwhile, I was still trying to get her to marry me.”
And when he suggested that she go into politics, she replied: “Are you out of your mind? Nobody would ever vote for me.”
Hillary detractors across the country must have been nodding in agreement, saying she was right then.
Just for good measure, Bill recalled “the greatest moment of my life”—Chelsea’s birth—as the network cameras went to a split screen with his daughter.
The Big Dog’s challenge was trickier than it looked. We all know that he can deliver mighty stemwinders, and he was better at promoting Barack Obama four years ago than the president himself, even if he did go on for what seemed like hours.
But last night he had to be careful not to overshadow his wife. He couldn’t make it sound like she was running for his third term, especially since Democratic politics is more left wing than when Clinton offered a “third way” in the 1990s. And yet he needed to avoid reminding people about the endless scandals and hedging and fudging and the bad old days of impeachment.
At the same time, Bill had to try to make his wife seem more likable, and more trustworthy, a particularly tough task given her sky-high negatives on honesty.
In short, he had to do what loyal spouses always do—except that he is a former president, and one who would be moving back to the White House in a Hillary administration, an unprecedented scenario in what he once promoted as two for the price of one.
After all, Hillary had once briefly promised to put him in charge of the economy.
As Bill’s speech continued, he admitted the obvious, that his wife has been on the stage a very long time. But he called her a “change-maker” and said she’s “never been satisfied with the status quo.”
Of course, especially running against Donald Trump, Hillary very much seems like the candidate of the status quo, or perhaps one of incremental change. Her idea of change is in position papers.
But what mattered last night was not a loyal husband’s recitation of her record, or even his insistence that the Republicans had reduced her to a “cartoon.”
It was that Bill cast Hillary as a real person—when she herself can seem remote, brittle, defensive and evasive. He sold her far better than she sells herself.
The man can tell a story. And in politics, that matters.