Adam Mansbach 2008

Adam Mansbach  books  events  bio  music  interviews  other writing 


Bill at the Convention

With yesterday’s barnburner of a speech at the Democratic National Convention, President Bill Clinton made a spectacular return ­– to form, and to relevance.

Clinton spent much of the primary season in attack mode, his face crimson and his index finger wagging as he berated the press, belittled the voters of North Carolina, and pouted at the betrayal of each old friend to endorse Barack Obama, from John Lewis to Bill Richardson.  Widely considered a loose cannon by his wife’s staffers, Clinton seemed to take her losses worse than she did.

How much damage he caused a campaign riven by infighting and hamstrung by strategic blunders is still being dissected.  But the damage Clinton inflicted on his own legacy, ­ especially amongst the black Americans who had always been his most stalwart supporters, is easier to quantify: plenty. 

To many, almost as disturbing as Clinton’s petulance and race-baiting was the apparent decline of his powers.  Many speculated that the greatest natural politician of his generation had simply lost his touch; that the landscape had shifted and left him permanently off-balance.  An April Vanity Fair article to that effect so offended the President that his office issued a lengthy rebuttal.

Last night, Clinton took the podium to a three-and-a-half-minute ovation, louder and longer than that accorded either his wife or vice presidential nominee Joe Biden.  When the noise finally abated, he offered a masterful, fluent endorsement of Barack Obama.  In strikingly personal terms, he declared the Illinois senator ready to lead, and himself and his family ready to rally behind the candidate. Then, Clinton lit into the Republican party, detailing the myriad ways in which the prosperity of his years in office were reversed when the GOP gained control of both the Oval Office and the two branches of the legislature in 2001.  

Clinton’s tone was pitch-perfect; he delivered both a history lesson and a rallying cry, a blueprint for Democratic victory and a thorough indictment of Republican failures.  With anxieties running high about the Obama campaign’s ability to go on the offensive against John McCain, Clinton gave a compact lesson in the art.  The power of his words was rooted in a clear sense of moral indignation, aimed a party that has abandoned the poor and the middle-class, diminished our standing in the world, and deceived the American public.

Of the Convention’s major speakers, only Clinton has yet uttered the word “Katrina,” the decade’s clearest codeword for the Bush administration’s trademark blend of incompetence and callousness.  Nor has any other major speaker yet mentioned cronyism or human rights abuses, two of the Bush administration’s defining atrocities.

In short, Clinton was electric, and if he spends the next eighty-three days traveling the country, speaking with this level of passion, lucidity and moral authority, he will contribute significantly to an Obama-Biden victory.   It may not be the legacy he envisioned when this campaign began, but it will among the most important things the man from Hope has ever done.


Adam Mansbach  books  events  bio  music  interviews  other writing