Clinton's Sprawling, Historic Speech


Photographer: Alex Wong/Getty Images

If Hillary Clinton wants to make even more history, then she is off to a good start. Her forceful acceptance speech was well-focused on its target, Donald Trump, but occasionally rambling in the elaboration of its theme: "stronger together." The sprawl is partly a result of the expanding reach of Clinton's campaign.

Recent presidential elections have been "base" elections, in which each party seeks to maximize turnout by its core supporters. That's not what Clinton, the first woman to be the presidential nominee of a major U.S. political party, has in mind. Her campaign seeks to encompass everyone from socialist supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders to Republicans disillusioned by the erratic ways and juvenile insults of Trump.

Sanders supporters -- some of whom continued to be disruptive in the arena -- were offered higher taxes on "Wall Street, corporations and the super rich" and a throwaway line about "unfair trade deals." Moderate Republicans, meanwhile, were offered a life raft away from the moral and political Titanic that is Trump.

At its core, Clinton's speech, like the Democratic convention that it brought to a close, was about what it means to be American -- and what it doesn't. A policy of crude religious exclusion was no more popular in Philadelphia this week than it was in the same city in 1787. When Khizr Khan, the father of a Muslim-American soldier who gave his life for his country, offered to lend Trump his personal copy of the U.S. Constitution, American politics gained an iconic moment.

"There are no guarantees," Clinton said, that political contests turn out for the best. (The one between Clinton and Trump is currently close.) "A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man you can trust with nuclear weapons," she said, homing in on the extraordinary danger Trump represents.

Clinton's positive message never attained such clarity or directness. She has trouble translating her policy expertise into digestible ideas, her plans into a vision. But she accurately portrayed the stakes of this election, and thus advanced her cause.

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