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Old Will Rogers was spinning in his grave tonight.
The Oklahoma cowboy philosopher and wise guy famously said, “"I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat." That pretty well described the Democrats for many decades.
Will Rogers would be baffled and incredulous at the action this week in Philadelphia. The Democratic National Convention wasn’t just a spectacle as organized as D-Day, it was as an extraordinary and skilled marathon of intelligent and emotional political persuasion.
That does not mean, however, that it will help the Clinton-Kaine ticket in November. Predictions have no place in the 2016 campaign.
It is my strong sense that what most Americans have heard about this convention from the media is off base. The play-by-play commentary has been all about tactics, puffing up party conflicts, gaffes, stagecraft and small ball, “insider” exposures of how various buzzwords and speakers pander to various demographic and ideological niches.
This convention was a much bigger production than that.
This convention was about one big thing: Recasting this one-dimensional character from modern history -- a caricature, a symbol, a nemesis, a tabloid constant, and a pioneer – into a human being with a heart and a soul.
This convention was a carefully constructed live-action serial documentary profiling Hillary Clinton the human being, not the lady that has lived in the TV for 25 years. There was ample attention to her professional achievements, career and policy agenda. But the domineering energy of this convention was explaining, exposing and honoring this oddly private, totally public woman.
Revealing the inner person, pealing back the curtain, letting it all hang out was not something Hillary could do herself. In a long career of public service, Hillary confessed Thursday night, she was always better with the “service” than the “public.” Wisely, she didn’t try to go warm and cuddly and she didn’t need to.
That job was delegated to an impressive chorus of orators who revived that old art, piercing the plastic facades of recent conventions the old-fashioned way. Michelle Obama, Bill Clinton, Joe Biden, Tim Kaine and, best of all, Barack Obama were the headliners and they were stars.
A huge, A-list supporting cast, generally more focused on a certain issue or aspect of Hillary’s career, blew recent conventions spiels out of the arena: General John Allen, Michael Bloomberg, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Meryl Streep, Gabby Gifford, Sarah Silverman, Cory Booker and Leon Panetta. There were some fabulous speeches. Lesser-known figures, regular people, victims of great tragedies, preachers, local politicians and activists complemented the big names. And clever, funny short films, often swipes at Donald Trump, varied the pace of the primetime programs.
The convention’s other chores -- soothing Bernie’s brokenhearted backers, showcasing key constituencies, presenting detailed policy plans, projecting party unity and properly celebrating the first major party nomination of a woman, it seems to me, were one level down from the real deal.
The other core mission, obviously, was annihilating Trump. There was plenty of that, attacks from every angle – military, moral, business, ignorance about American Government 101, sexist, racist and treasonous. Much of it was done with a light touch that did not hold a candle to the rabid, Lord of the Flies hatred of Hillary that permeated Cleveland.
The careful, progressive choreography of the four-day convention set the table so well that Hillary didn’t have to deliver the speech of her life. She didn’t have to become lovable and charismatic in 50 minutes. She didn’t have to strut down the runaway as the latest, chicest Hillary. And she didn’t do any of that. She played within her limits and that was enough.
Hillary’s cadence was a tad gentler and quieter than usual. She was self-deprecating. “I get it,” she said, “Some people just don’t know what to make of me.” A gutsy thing to say really, but her manner was matter of fact, totally secure.
The rest was standard Hillary, but Hillary with a special glow, triumphant but very, very humbly so. She spelled out her basic vision and values, backed by policies and past results. It was too pointillist and granular for my taste; I still want to hear the unifying wisdom, the worldview, the explanation of how she thinks the world works. It seems, though, that’s not how she thinks. That has been a perennial problem in helping voters feel like they know what makes her tick.
She did not fix that tonight. But her supporting cast sure did.
After so many years in the hot seat, it’s hard to imagine there are many voters open to looking at Hillary Clinton in new light. On the other hand, Donald Trump is casting an eerie black light on the whole campaign. All the world’s a stage and this play hasn’t been written to the end yet.
Still, the Democrats in Philadelphia should take bow.