Democrats cannot rely on style, likeability of Clinton for too much longer
During the Democratic National Convention, we heard the incumbent party’s strongest argument yet for re-electing President Barack Obama. The speech was articulate, spirited and even funny. But our current president didn’t deliver it.
Former President Bill Clinton’s 45-minute speech was the political highlight of an otherwise unexciting convention. Once again, the Democrats relied on Clinton to save the day.
Whether in the White House or on the campaign trail, Clinton has been the nucleus of the Democratic Party for more than two decades. He’s transformed modern political culture, and his party has struggled to find a politician who can replace him. How long can Clinton be the Democrats’ ace in the hole?
Clinton is a raw politician, maybe the best we’ve seen as president. Voters are mesmerized by his blend of charm, intellect and throaty, Southern drawl.
Clinton is the Steve Jobs of the modern Democratic Party — an infallible visionary ahead of this time. Democrats tend to forget about his disastrous first term, sex scandal and impeachment. Come on, he played the saxophone on Arsenio Hall!
After Clinton’s convention speech, Obama joked that he should appoint him “secretary of explaining stuff.” It’s no surprise that Clinton commanded a larger television audience than the NFL season opener.
But Clinton’s speech was really nothing special, just standard Democratic campaign talk. “We simply cannot afford to give the reins of government to someone who will double down on trickle down,” he told the audience.
The difference between Clinton’s message and the current Democratic riff is that Clinton has the 1990s economy as backup. Fueled by the dot-com boom, Clinton was president during the longest period of peacetime economic expansion in U.S. history.
As for Clinton’s wife, Hillary, her globetrotter status as Secretary of State has kept the Obama administration grounded on foreign policy. Remember that it was Hillary Clinton — not Obama — who took a leadership role in NATO military operations in Libya. She enjoys much higher job approval ratings than the current president. Liberals salivate at her running for president in 2016.
Without the Clintons, the Democrats would be lost.
In 2008, Obama created immediate and powerful enthusiasm for the Democratic platform. Soaring speeches and solid campaigning won him the election. In 2012, passion for the Obama campaign is mediocre at best, and a tighter political battle is in store for the next eight weeks.
However, you don’t see any top-ranking congressional Democrats jumping in on the campaign trail. The so-called “leaders” of the Democratic Party — Sen. John Kerry (Mass.), Sen. Harry Reid (Nev.), Rep. Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) — were pushed out of the spotlight at their own national convention. Up-and-comers, like San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, didn’t provide the rhetorical juice their party needed.
If Obama wins a second term and the economy stays flat, the president won’t be able to trot out “Bubba” to clean up the mess.
Obama hasn’t lost all his luster, but he can’t rely on broad campaign promises anymore. As former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo said, “You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose.” Prose is exactly what Clinton brings to the Democratic message.
While Clinton may be the greatest political thoroughbred we’ve ever seen, he’s raced long enough. Obama and the Democrats should let him retire to a ranch in Arkansas. Clinton can ride off into the sunset, probably muttering, “It’s the economy, stupid.”
Jared Kraham is a senior political science and broadcast journalism major. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter at @JaredKraham.
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