Dispatches From the Democratic National Convention

How Bill Clinton Saved Obama From Looking Like a Snob
Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
Sept. 6 2012 8:24 PM

Dispatches From the Democratic National Convention

VIEW ALL ENTRIES

Obama doesn’t need to worry about looking like a snob. Bill Clinton already exposed the GOP for its lack of ideas.

A DNC attendee waves an Obama-shaped sign as the President speaks.
A man enthusiastically waves a cut out of Obama’s head.

Richard Kalvar/Magnum Photos for Slate.

Gentlemen:

Sasha Issenberg Sasha Issenberg

Sasha Issenberg is the author of The Victory Lab about the new science of political campaigns.

In contemplating Obama's challenges tonight, I can't help but think back to the way Bill Clinton solved one of them for him. Before Obama's speeches we always seem to ask whether he can avoid being too aloof or professorial or pedantic or whatever term we used to describe the widely held view—and it's been ratified by the New York Times!—that our president thinks he's smarter than us.

That's been not only a problem with Obama's tone, but a Democratic messaging conundrum since the emergence of George W. Bush as the GOP's standard-bearer. Democrats think they're smarter than Republicans: more serious about issues, more intellectually honest, more committed to science and empiricism. This assumption informs nearly every judgment the party makes about its opposition. (The only area where Democrats don't always think they're better is the one I cover most of the time: Each side perpetually thinks the other side is more tactically savvy.) Basically Democrats have spent 12 years trying to find out how to call their opponents idiots without sounding like snobs.

The solution, of course, is Clinton. (It seems like he's the magical stranger who solves all the Democrats' problems, no?) He managed to judge the Republicans on intellectual terms: caricatured them as unserious, intellectually unsophisticated—quite literally, know-nothings. He explained to the country that Republicans simply didn't understand arithmetic, and didn't look snobby about it.

Doesn't this relieve Obama of a major burden? He doesn't need to explain, avoiding a lapse into the professorial, and he can judge his opponents' proposals in terms that project empathy and not intellectual superiority.

Sasha

Read the rest of Slate’s coverage of the Democratic National Convention.

TODAY IN SLATE

The World

The Budget Disaster that Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola

Are the Attacks in Canada a Sign of ISIS on the Rise in the West?

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

Is It Offensive When Kids Use Bad Words for Good Causes?

Fascinating Maps Based on Reddit, Craigslist, and OkCupid Data

Culturebox

The Real Secret of Serial

What reporter Sarah Koenig actually believes.

Culturebox

The Actual World

“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.

In Praise of 13th Grade: Why a Fifth Year of High School Is a Great Idea

Can Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu Pull Off One More Louisiana Miracle?

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 23 2014 3:55 PM Panda Sluggers Democrats are in trouble. Time to bash China.
  Business
Business Insider
Oct. 23 2014 2:36 PM Take a Rare Peek Inside the Massive Data Centers That Power Google
  Life
Outward
Oct. 23 2014 5:08 PM Why Is an Obscure 1968 Documentary in the Opening Credits of Transparent?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 23 2014 11:33 AM Watch Little Princesses Curse for the Feminist Cause
  Slate Plus
Working
Oct. 23 2014 11:28 AM Slate’s Working Podcast: Episode 2 Transcript Read what David Plotz asked Dr. Meri Kolbrener about her workday.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 23 2014 5:08 PM What Happens When You Serve McDonald’s to Food Snobs and Tell Them It’s Organic
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 23 2014 4:36 PM Vampire Porn Mindgeek is a cautionary tale of consolidating production and distribution in a single, monopolistic owner.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 23 2014 7:30 AM Our Solar System and Galaxy … Seen by an Astronaut
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.