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A Good-Enough Speech, a First-Rate Convention

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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The theme of the Democratic convention was "Stronger Together," and the final day of the convention -- and Hillary Clinton's acceptance speech -- proved the point. 

The speech itself? Clinton remains a second-rate orator, perhaps the equal of several previous nominees such as George W. Bush, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush, as well as Mitt Romney, Bob Dole and Michael Dukakis. Her speech, like those delivered by all those men, was good enough.

What she lacks in skills, however, and what the speech lacked at time in craft, was more than made up for by the rest of the room, the pageantry and the historic occasion. Those who love her almost certainly loved it, and will be motivated to work harder (or donate more) for her cause. Those who hate her weren't watching anyway.

There were plenty of well-written and well-delivered bits. And most voters see and hear the sound bites (and will see and hear them over and over), not the whole thing. 

Of course, we can't jump the gun on how it will play with those voters who aren't already solidly with her or against her. I saw several people -- including some Republican operatives and pundits -- say that the convention today looked like a Republican convention. Tributes to American troops. Tributes to police officers killed in the line of duty. Plenty of patriotism, and plenty of religion. 

But this was very much a Democratic convention. 

Clinton talked about 1776 in Philadelphia, and framed it as a story about the virtues of compromise, not as the product of men of genius. It's hard to imagine the Republican Tea Party, let alone the Trumpified GOP, cheering a story of compromise. Much later in the speech, Clinton used the issue of gun safety to again sell the virtues of reaching common ground, rather than play to the emotions surrounding guns in America (which Democrats did repeatedly throughout the convention).

Like several other speakers in Philadelphia, Clinton focused on Trump's boast that "I alone can fix" the problems of the nation. The author of "It Takes a Village" was ideally suited to parry that line. "No one," she told us, "gets through life alone."

The other strong riff in Clinton's speech was about the role of commander-in-chief. She began by hitting Trump, saying, "A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons." She then quoted Jackie Kennedy who said John Kennedy worried about wars started by "little men -- the ones moved by fear and pride." Clinton concluded: "Strength relies on smarts, judgment, cool resolve, and the precise and strategic application of power. That's the kind of commander-in-chief I pledge to be." 

Clinton utterly failed to make the landing at the end of the speech, and she got bogged down at times in touching all the bases her constituency demands (as Democrats tend to do, but only some can do well) . But again, what matters is what people remember, and this depends a lot on decisions by TV producers, who are usually generous in their coverage of nominees' speeches. A lot of what people are going to see is the balloons drop, and the images of the first female presidential nominee with her running mate, Tim Kaine, and with her husband, framed by red, white and blue. Again, if you're inclined to like Democrats, those pictures get you half the way there, regardless of what was in the speech. 

On the whole, it was an thoroughly professional convention: It provided plenty of things for strong Clinton supporters, for Democrats who weren't with her yet, and even a fair amount for those not normally open to voting for Democrats but find themselves disgusted by Trump. Now we have to wait for the polls to know if it worked.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Katy Roberts at kroberts29@bloomberg.net