by Peter Dreier: Trump was born on third base but thinks he hit a triple. On Thursday night, Hillary Clinton hit a triple.
Triples are harder to hit than home runs. They require power AND base-running ability. When you hit a homer, you can jog around the bases. To hit a triple, you have to run full-speed from home plate to third base. You have to know your own strengths and those of your opponent - do I have the speed to make it third, does the outfielder have the arm strength to throw me out? Triples take grit and determination. They don’t always excite the crowd like home runs. But they help your team win the game.
Presidential acceptance speeches should be judged both on substance and on performance. I’d give Hillary an A on substance and a B+ on performance. So, combined, it was an A-. In other words, a triple.
It contained some mildly soaring rhetoric but mostly it was: Here’s who I am, here’s what I’ll do, and here’s why Trump is dangerous.
Clinton was both self-assured AND self-deprecating. She made fun of her policy-wonk instincts but then said that a good president has to know the details. She talked about coming back from adversity — both the defeat of health care reform (explicitly) and her occasionally troubled marriage (implicitly) — and turned it into a lifetime of grit, determination, and accomplishment.
Her references to our Founding Fathers, and her reference to the Broadway show “Hamilton,” reminded us that all progressive change involves compromise and negotiation, which is not the same thing as capitulating or selling out. She sounded patriotic, where Trump last week sounded xenophobic.
Some pundits have said that Clinton’s strongest appeal is to women over 50 who remember when the idea of a woman president was considered unthinkable. In 1969, only 53 percent of Americans said they would vote for a woman for president “if she were qualified in every other respect,” according to the Gallup Poll. By last year, that figure had increased to 92 percent. Many younger women, who have benefited from the activism of their older counterparts, take the accomplishments of the women’s movement for granted. Perhaps so. But watching Clinton’s speech Thursday night, my 19-year twin daughters — both fervent Sanders supporters — were moved to tears.
Clinton basked in her status as the first women to be nominated by a major political party. But she said it wasn’t about her. It was about the progress of women. And although she didn’t refer to the old labor song, “Bread and Roses,” she articulated the same sentiment of that song: “The rising of the women is the rising of us all.”
Oh, and she wore a white dress — the same color clothing that the early 20th century suffragettes wore. Was that a coincidence?
In terms of the policy agenda, she managed to explain it without being too wonky. Plus, it was the most progressive acceptance speech in my lifetime. She was generous in her praise of Bernie Sanders. She clearly was pitching it to win over Sanders’ supporters.
She took on the gun lobby. She took on Wall Street. She took on the super-rich and big business by calling for higher taxes. She came out for free higher education, and reducing student debt, echoing Bernie’s plan. She called for making the minimum wage a living wage, but didn’t say how big. She called for a major investment in infrastructure as both a jobs program and an energy-efficiency program. She came out for paid family leave and defended a woman’s right to choose. She came out for comprehensive immigration reform. She talked about inequality and poverty - something you’ll never heard from Trump. She mentioned the Flint water crisis. Echoing Black Lives Matter, she indicted the criminal justice system as racist. But she also praised police for their courage and risk-taking. All she had to say was one line — “I believe in science” — and people got the point: Trump doesn’t. He’s a climate change denier.
I wish she had used the word “union” at least once. A stronger labor movement is central to a more progressive America. Plus, she can’t win without organized labor mobilizing its members and their families, and investing in her campaign.
It isn’t fair to criticize her for not being more specific. That’s not what acceptance speeches are for. But the contrast with Trump’s acceptance speech — all bombast, no issues, all fear, no hope — was obvious.
It was great that she reminded the crowd of FDR with her reference to “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” using it to undermine Trump as a fear-monger. Trump vs. FDR: no contest! And, she had some funny lines. She showed a sense of humor — something many people don’t associate with HRC.
She compared her own view of the world, reflected in her book, “It Takes a Village,” with Trump’s line last week: “I alone can fix it.”
She bashed Trump’s record as a con artist who failed to pay his bills to small businesses and workers. She questioned his principles and his psychological stability. She was tough on Trump, but she didn’t come across (as he did last week) as angry and unhinged. She was calm, steady, cool under pressure.
The speech took full advantage of her strengths and avoided her weaknesses. She’s not good at belting, at modulating, or at barn-burning rhetoric, and she didn’t try to do it. She came off as more of a human being, less as a still policy junkie.
Watching it on TV, it look liked she had the crowd on her side. Unlike Monday night, the handful of hecklers didn’t get in the way. You couldn’t hear them clearly on TV, and Hillary ignored them and didn’t get flustered. I was worried that 100-200 Bernie-or-busters would walk out as soon as she started talking and that the TV cameras would pan to the walk-outers. But either there was no walk-out or, if there was, the TV cameras didn’t show it — a sign of restraint and good journalism.
So, from the comfort of my living room, I was very impressed. To me, triples are more exciting than home runs.
Peter Dreier is the E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics and chair of the Urban & Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College. His latest book is The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame (Nation Books).