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

Sports Nut

Grandmaster Clash

One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

Do the Celebrities Whose Nude Photos Were Stolen Have a Case Against Apple?

The NFL Explains How It Sees “the Role of the Female”

Future Tense

Amazon Is Now a Gadget Company

Food

How to Order Chinese Food

First, stop thinking of it as “Chinese food.”

Scotland Is Inspiring Secessionists Across America

The Country Where Women Aren’t Allowed to Work Once They’re 36 Weeks’ Pregnant

The XX Factor
Sept. 18 2014 11:40 AM The Country Where Women Aren’t Allowed to Work Once They’re 36 Weeks’ Pregnant
Moneybox
Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 18 2014 3:19 PM In Defense of Congress Leaving Town Without a New War Vote
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 18 2014 3:31 PM What Europe Would Look Like If All the Separatist Movements Got Their Way
  Life
Outward
Sept. 18 2014 4:15 PM Reactions to a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Reveal Transmisogyny
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 18 2014 3:30 PM How Crisis Pregnancy Centers Trick Women
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 18 2014 1:23 PM “It’s Not Every Day That You Can Beat the World Champion” An exclusive interview with chess grandmaster Fabiano Caruana.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 18 2014 4:33 PM The Top 5 Dadsplaining Moments From The Cosby Show
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 18 2014 4:26 PM Global Oceans Break All-Time Heat Record; World on Pace for Warmest Year Ever
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 18 2014 3:35 PM Do People Still Die of Rabies? And how do you know if an animal is rabid?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.