A few delayed thoughts about President Clinton’s speech in Helena yesterday:
The short version: Clinton is every bit as charismatic and engaging as he was when running for office himself. From the outset, he received a very warm response from the crowd, which could probably be best described as partisan, but not necessarily pro-Clinton. He still possesses that rare gift that few public speakers master, the ability to seem to connect individually with members of a large crowd.
As for the speech itself, it was a solid effort, laden with information about what Hillary has accomplished and what she will do as President. It certainly inspired me to look more closely at the health care reform plans offered by Clinton and Obama, reminded me of HC’s long record of service to progressive causes, and forcefully critiqued the current administration.
What was missing, I think, was a call to action, the inspiring positive message that gets voters out and active in a campaign. There was a lot of applause Tuesday evening, but it was awkward applause, often following a true, but painful remark about the current state of the American economy, foreign policy, and social safety net. We’re were rarely applauding great ideas and hopeful messages, and to some extent, I think that has been the greatest misstep of the Clinton candidacy.
Bill Clinton and Al Gore were able to energize a nation that was feeling an economic pinch, not agree with them. The historical parallel is strikingly close: Clinton was running against a weak defender of a failed status quo, and ran by leading with a forward vision for the country, not a critique of the past. Though I was later disappointed by some elements of his Presidency, I remember feeling incredibly excited to hear Clinton speak, to shake his hand, because he had the energy and vision to things done. Yesterday, I found myself agreeing, but not inspired about what can be, and that might just summarize the whole Clinton campaign this year.
In a close race between two very similar candidates, we’ve seen and heard too little of the Hillary Clinton who is an inspired, dedicated leader, one who probably would work harder than any President in recent memory. That Hillary Clinton, leading the way forward, rather than pointing out the failures behind us, might well have been unstoppable.