Dispatches From the Democratic National Convention

Will Bill Clinton Save Barack’s Bacon?
Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
Sept. 4 2012 10:48 AM

Dispatches From the Democratic National Convention

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The most important speakers here may be Bill Clinton and a slew of “real people.”

Illustration by Robert Neubecker.

Illustration by Robert Neubecker.

Dave and Sasha,

John Dickerson John Dickerson

John Dickerson is Slate's chief political correspondent and author of On Her Trail. Read his series on the presidency and on risk.

Dave, to your point about excitement: Before we arrived a longtime senior Democrat (who does not, as far as I know, own a funny hat) was saying that the problem for all of us covering this convention would be that it wouldn't be very exciting. No real tension in the party (not like the overplayed Obama/Clinton tension of 2008) and not a lot of great speakers. The Republican convention had the jazzy speakers: Walker, Christie, Rubio, and Ryan. This strategist argued that these speakers are from the Reagan generation. All that comes after belongs to the Democrats but they have a hole in that spot. Interesting theory.

On the street art for Obama. It is true that there are people here who are deeply, passionately in love with this president. They are realistic—he hasn't done everything—but given what he's been up against they seem even more adamant about having his back. I am just repeating your point that the street vibe is so much more pro-Obama than it was pro-Romney. It's not the aimless love of 2008, but it's still very strong. (Caveat: I haven't spent time with the journalists who were angling to get into the Obama friends and family pen in Chicago on Election Night; they may still have eyes as wide as saucers.) Heck, I mean even Chuck Norris can't seem to mention the name of the candidate you're supposed to vote for in order to save us from socialism "or something worse."

LED flag
A star-spangled LED display outside the convention center in Charlotte.

Richard Kalvar / Magnum Photos for Slate.

There is one great speaker:  Bill Clinton. One of the stories right now is that his speech has not been vetted. This is not just inside baseball; it's inside the atoms as they bounce off one another in the cork at the center of the baseball. It must be said, though, that Bill Clinton's endless speech in 1988 (which may still be going on, for all we know) was a major miscue, so maybe the people who are obsessed with the vetting issue should be. But when I last wrote about the bouncing ball that is Bill, pretty much everyone I talked to said, “He’s a former president of the United States. Some staffer doesn’t tell him what to do.”

You could imagine that Clinton sees himself as the great rescuing force. Barack Obama once dissed him. He said he was not a transformational figure in the way that Reagan was. Now Obama’s relying on Clinton to transform this race. That’s the way Clinton no doubt sees it. He’s not just trying to save Obama’s bacon. He’s going to speak for the entire Democratic dream. As you’ve quite rightly pointed out, there are huge issues at the center of this election (despite the coverage of same). Clinton wants to make the case for those big issues.

Can I make a prediction, by the way? I have high hopes for one of the "real people" at the convention. The Obama campaign has promised they’ll be testifying for the president at every turn. The real people who introduced Obama on the Ohio bus tour I was on a month or so back were pretty compelling.

Remember Barney Smith from the 2008 convention? He was a lifelong Republican who said we need a president "who takes care of Barney Smith, not Smith Barney." I bet we get another fellow like him. Or maybe we get a reprise of Barney himself. You know where he works now? Chrysler, the auto company that is back on its feet in part because of the auto bailout Obama supported. Smith was asked the question of the day recently: "Am I better off than I was four years ago? Sure, I'm a lot better off." If this guy isn’t here, someone isn’t doing their job.

John

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

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