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


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.


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.


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


War Stories

The Right Target

Why Obama’s airstrikes against ISIS may be more effective than people expect.

The One National Holiday Republicans Hope You Forget

It’s Legal for Obama to Bomb Syria Because He Says It Is

I Stand With Emma Watson on Women’s Rights

Even though I know I’m going to get flak for it.

Should You Recline Your Seat? Two Economists Weigh In.


It Is Very, Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Or, why it is very, very stupid to compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice.

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

Why Is This Mother in Prison for Helping Her Daughter Get an Abortion?

It’s Fine to Use Facebook to Serve People With Legal Papers, Court Rules

  News & Politics
Sept. 23 2014 6:40 PM Coalition of the Presentable Don’t believe the official version. Meet America’s real allies in the fight against ISIS.
Sept. 23 2014 2:08 PM Home Depot’s Former Lead Security Engineer Had a Legacy of Sabotage
Sept. 23 2014 1:57 PM Would a Second Sarkozy Presidency End Marriage Equality in France?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 23 2014 2:32 PM Politico Asks: Why Is Gabby Giffords So “Ruthless” on Gun Control?
  Slate Plus
Political Gabfest
Sept. 23 2014 3:04 PM Chicago Gabfest How to get your tickets before anyone else.
Brow Beat
Sept. 23 2014 8:38 PM “No One in This World” Is One of Kutiman’s Best, Most Impressive Songs
Future Tense
Sept. 23 2014 5:36 PM This Climate Change Poem Moved World Leaders to Tears Today
  Health & Science
Sept. 23 2014 4:33 PM Who Deserves Those 4 Inches of Airplane Seat Space? An investigation into the economics of reclining.
Sports Nut
Sept. 23 2014 7:27 PM You’re Fired, Roger Goodell If the commissioner gets the ax, the NFL would still need a better justice system. What would that look like?