Political conventions are the World Series of politics. For four days, national delegates are immersed in a matrix of politics and policy, celebrity-gazing and camaraderie, late nights and early mornings.
The highlights of the convention, the major speeches seen on television, show us each time the centrality and power of the spoken word. In ancient Greece and Rome, rhetoric and oratory were major subjects of study. A Roman politician worth his salt had to be able to speak in public. Julius Caesar and Mark Antony were both noted for their speech-making as well as their war-making.
Day one got off to a raucous start for the Democrats, but the ship righted itself quickly and the first evening went off without a hitch. More than that, it inspired, it moved, it united, and it cheered Democrats who (finally) got to tell their story.
The biggest part of that story was the speech by Sen. Bernie Sanders. The agenda of that first evening was to accent the progressive wing of the party, closing with a speech from the current leader of that wing. His speech was all that the Clinton campaign could have wanted. His endorsement was full-throated. He discouraged his "Bernie or bust" supporters. High marks should also go to Sarah Silverman, who seemed to put the shouters in their place; anyway, it got a little quieter after she told them they were being "ridiculous".
Sen. Sanders spent most of his speech pushing for his issues--the banks, free tuition, minimum wage--with which most delegates mostly agree, and which is now written in the party platform. Hillary and Bernie worked out this out pretty much flawlessly. He got what he wanted--his biggest issues in the party platform, and respect for his movement--and she got what she wanted: Bernie on the team 100%. (If the Democrats take the Senate, Bernie may suddenly become a very prominent Senator, especially in a Democratic administration.)
The platform was an easy "give" for Hillary. Nobody pays much attention to party platforms. I always think of the story about Robert Kennedy who was trying to decide whether or not to run in 1968. Arthur Schlesinger said that he should not run, and should instead push for an anti-war plank in the party platform. RFK reportedly said, "Arthur, when was the last time millions of people rallied to a platform?"
Still, party platforms aren't entirely irrelevant. They signal a direction, and, in this case, the platform is a reflection of the progressive wing of the party being in the ascendant. In the past, the most progressive candidate would get about one-fourth of the Democratic primary vote. Bernie pushed that up to 42%. Plus, Hillary pretty much agrees with Bernie herself. Bernie's candidacy pushed her to the left, as predicted, but she didn't have to be drug kicking and screaming. Hillary has been for a "public option" in health care since 1993. She's a progressive too.
The nation got a preview of a some day presidential candidate in Sen. Cory Booker, one of the Democratic Party's best orators. His stirring speech riffed on Maya Angelou's poem, "Still I Rise," and set the stage nicely for Michelle Obama. The First Lady's inspiring and poetic speech included a truly impressive endorsement of Hillary. She'd trust Hillary with her kids! Portions of the First Lady's are already oft-quoted on Facebook. Michelle rocked the house two weeks in a row!
President Bill Clinton has been a featured speaker at Democratic conventions since 1988. While his 1988 speech was one of his worst, his 2016 speech was one of his best. He started off in an unusual way--no paeans to the crowd, no thanking anyone, no mention of distinguished dignitaries--and launched into the story of their relationship. "In the spring of 1971, I met a girl..." This story went on for quite awhile.
Then, just when you were wondering where he was going with all of this, he spoke of "the real Hillary" versus the "made up" one. The lengthy build-up was necessary to the point: The person he talked about was the real Hillary, and the person talked about at the GOP convention was a "cartoon."
Some commentators didn't like the speech--too long, said one; all that relationship business wasn't feminist, said another. But Joy Reid called it, almost to her surprise, as "kind of genius." He submerged his own centrality to the story and made Hillary the center. He told stories that even long time Clinton supporters didn't know. He encouraged those on the fence to take a second look at someone they thought they knew, but really didn't.
He has completely grey hair now, and wrinkles on his face, but when it comes to touching the heart of an issue and relating it to real life, he's still the master.