In the City of Brotherly Love, there’s been a three-day lovefest going on for Hillary Clinton that calls to mind the lyrics of a song (if you substitute she for he) from the musical Bye Bye Birdie: “She’s as decent as a minister, she’s as sober as a judge, she subscribes to every charity, and her hobby’s making fudge.”
The accomplishments of the former first lady, U.S. senator and secretary of state were laid out in at times mind-numbing detail by former president Bill Clinton.
Her grit as a rival for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination and her strength as a crucial member of his cabinet were powerfully highlighted by President Barack Obama. He noted that Hillary had pushed to take out Osama bin Laden and said no one has ever been better qualified to sit in the Oval Office, adding with a smiling nod to her husband, “Sorry, Bill, that includes you and me.”
Her commitment to children, women and the disabled was extolled in a riveting and almost universally praised paean by a fellow first lady, Michelle Obama.
Her value as a friend and thoughtful Senate colleague was vigorously praised by Vice President Joe Biden, who probably would have run against her for the nomination were it not for the untimely death of his son, Beau. And all manner of other Democrats, from the mothers of young black men killed on the streets to a survivor of the 9/11 attacks to celebrities such as Lena Dunham and Meryl Streep, stepped up to the podium in an orchestrated but highly effective demonstration of support for the woman who would be the first Madame President.
Even Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-independent Mike Bloomberg, the billionaire former mayor of New York City, urged voters, and especially independents, to vote for Clinton as he carved up Republican nominee Donald Trump like a counterman at a New York deli slicing brisket.
Because the Republican National Convention last week in Cleveland seemed so wild-eyed and dysfunctional in its opening days, the pressure on Trump to deliver a strong, coherent acceptance speech was heavier than it should have been. Without parsing the content, it’s fair to say he pulled it off, and the polls have showed his campaign got a respectable bounce from the convention.
But the heat on Hillary tonight is far more intense in part because she is the first woman with a real chance of being president and -- let’s face it -- is being judged by a higher standard. More important, she has to live up to three days of praise and at the same time cast off a lot of the baggage she has been dragging behind her for her entire campaign and indeed her entire political life.
The data-driven website FiveThirtyEight says that while the race between Trump and Hillary is now a dead heat, in the past several weeks there has been a distinct drift away from Clinton that cannot be explained by the post-GOP convention bump. To put a very fine point on what’s at stake: Her election could depend on how successful she is tonight.
Here are some of the things Clinton must accomplish:
- She must bridge an enormous “untrustworthy” gap and convince many of the 68 percent of voters who question her honesty that if they put their faith in her, she will be a scrupulously truthful president. To do that, Clinton needs to address the issue head-on. No alibis. No excuses. Just a forceful recognition that the obfuscatory, head-of-a-pin politics of the past are behind her. Americans are a forgiving people who love second chances and comeback kids. What they really don’t like are weasels.
- She must celebrate the fact that she might be the first woman to be president but at all costs avoid overtly feminist politics and make clear that while her oath of office will be a milestone, gender should never be the sole reason to vote for anyone.
- She must find a way to appeal to all the young people who see her as the candidate of yesterday – especially the still-drying-their-eyes legions that made Bernie Sanders a movement. To do that, Clinton can borrow from Sanders and Senator Elizabeth Warren in confronting the inequities of this American life, but she can’t become a sudden socialist and turn off middle-class independents. One way to do that is to be inspirational – JFK, Obama inspirational. That will be especially hard to pull off because Clinton is a hard-nosed realist, not really a dreamer.
- She must speak to those of her countrymen whose anger has sent them into the bespoke arms of a man who promises to ease their pain and fatten their worn and empty wallets -- not by cracking down on others seeking a better life but by offering hope of a crackling economy that creates jobs with a future.
- She must make clear that she has the gumption to be a commander-in-chief who is cool under fire, lethal when she needs to be (especially when it comes to radical Islamic terrorists) and always aware that intervening in trouble spots means sending young Americans into harm’s way.
- She must envision a country that moves beyond gun violence and the killing fields that have left blacks blown away at traffic stops and cops in blue gunned down for keeping the peace – and she must do that without striking fear in gun owners that government will try to wrest reasonable weapons out of their hands.
Most of all, Hillary Clinton must be authentic. Lauren Manning, a survivor of the World Trade Center attack, talked on Tuesday night about the Hillary who held her hand in the hospital and checked up on her recovery from massive burns – all without any cameras or fanfare.
Hillary needs to cut up the cardboard persona she has taken years to construct and be herself for better or worse.
America needs to meet her.