I don’t know how the ex-president Bill Clinton will be remembered, though I suspect his main legacy may be how he embodies the narcissism of our times. Tonight’s speech at the Democratic National Convention, in which he nominated a lousy American president whom he race-baited four years ago, certainly fits that possibility. He was, as usual and like Oprah, centered upon himself the whole time. There was very little room for the Obama administration, merely a reactionary defense in which he managed to invoke his own presidency as a constant, condescending stream of rambling consciousness, including his own wife, long-suffering Hillary, Obama’s chosen secretary of state, a sad figure who arguably would have made a better president but fell victim to her husband’s narcissism. The moment in which he mentioned the woman who is legally his wife was best captured by a camera pan to their only child, Chelsea, sitting and declining to approve her father’s perfunctory, faintly demeaning citation of her mother by sitting stone-faced and withholding applause. Their long, national psycho-drama continued tonight with his wagging finger – the same finger which was instrumental in his pointedly and pathologically lying to the nation about what was frankly a sordid and unbecoming exercise of his power.
Clinton overstayed his welcome yet again, as he did in 1988, droning on to no particular effect, firing up the rank and file by sounding passionate without being passionate. His speech was both an apologia for the dreadful Obama, whom he probably can’t stand, and an off-key aria about himself. He stepped out and promptly mocked the American self-made man, preached cooperation and, in what was his best moment, offered that this year’s presidential election is a contrast between the Democrats’ philosophy that we’re all in this together vs. the Republicans’ view that you’re on your own.
The speech’s theme rings partially true. The GOP this year, because it is not the nihilistic New Left, does represent a small move away from being lumped into a collective against one’s will, being smothered and suffocated by government control – imagine being on the Titanic with someone telling you that “we’re all in the same boat, you know” as comfort – toward something closer to a society in which one may be free to think, speak, associate, love and act of one’s own free will, pursuing happiness according to your own vision for yourself and your chosen friends. Clinton’s right that Obama versus Romney is a contest between stepping up to working on the chain gang – we’re all in this together – and liberating oneself from the shackles of Big Government to be free to think, create and make money – you’re on your own.
But Clinton strayed from the theme as he often does, losing focus, becoming distracted, winding his way back to Clinton and insisting that the put-upon hall of delegates and assorted Democrats “listen to me now.” He warbled. He rationalized. He lied – declaring that Obama would bring “lots of new wealth for innovators” was the real whopper – and, of course, adopting his smarmy, signature gesture, the impeached and disgraced president waved his finger as he did when he lied about his White House affairs when he should have been taking down the pre-9/11 Osama bin Laden, whom he refused to kill when he learned he was hiding in a mosque. The latest Clinton convention speech – his seventh if you’re keeping score – was a conventional rundown that, with any luck and common sense among the American people, amounts to a defensive pre-emptory plea not to blame Obama’s defeat on him.
Bill Clinton’s speech was anti-climactic, nominating a failed president I call the Nothing Man, who was like a ghost tonight even when he loped onto the stage. He rattled off lies, half-truths and disconnected facts, statistics and assertions that don’t begin to explain why we’re approaching the brink of economic collapse. “… I want you to listen,” the college-bred huckster from Hope, Arkansas said, talking for 48 minutes about himself and the college-bred activist-lawyer from Hawaii, Indonesia and the South Side of Chicago who once promised hope and change and instead delivered us deeper into a nightmare. That Clinton said so little of substance raises the stakes for Obama tomorrow night.