Today marks the start of Beyond Chron’s wall-to-wall convention coverage here in Denver. Having predicted in November 2006 that 2008 was Barack Obama’s time to win
the presidency, and on August 15 that Joe Biden would be his running mate
, I make my predictions for convention week on a roll. Already, the Democrats have made three good decisions. First, the Party wisely delayed its convention until the end of August. This prevents the convention boost from being dissipated by a summer slumber, while Republicans would leave their convention ready to hit the ground running. Second, Denver was the perfect choice for the event. It highlights the Party’s growing strength in the Mountain West, among Latinos, and among the creative class. Third, the Democrats made a brilliant move in allocating prime-time speeches. Michelle Obama is the perfect opening night speaker, and every demographic group has been assured a prominent speaking role. I predict that someone not named Obama will be the talk of the week, and that his or her speech will be primarily credited for the convention’s success.
This is a critical week for the nation’s future. It will either end with the Democratic Party energized and emboldened to win a sweeping victory, or with Barack Obama still likely to win but having failed to dissolve the growing anxiety among his base.
Having written in November 2006 that Obama should seek the presidency, I remained steadfast in my belief during the long primary season that he would win the nomination. I am just as confident that the former scenario will play out this week, though the process by which Obama will come out of Denver leading the most enthusiastic Democratic Party in decades will prove surprising.
The Clinton Factor
I have never been a fan of Bill or Hillary Clinton. I was not enthusiastic about Clinton during his 1992 campaign, and was not surprised when he spent much of his eight year presidency undermining the progressive cause.
I was glad to see Bill Clinton get his comeuppance during and after the South Carolina primary. Clinton Administration policies did not entitle him to such strong support among African-Americans, and he finally alienated this key constituency when he used racially charged appeals in South Carolina to denigrate Barack Obama.
Neither South Carolina Congressmen James Clyburn nor the media could impede Bill Clinton’s efforts to question the abilities of the then-Democratic frontrunner. Even in early August, Clinton gave a widely publicized interview in which he only reluctantly praised Obama, suggesting he was only minimally qualified to be President.
But it now appears that the former president was using this interview to negotiate a last-ditch effort to save his legacy. And while this reeks of the selfishness for which Bill Clinton is reknown, it means that his public conversion to the Obama bandwagon next week will be viewed as particularly significant.
Bill Clinton’s Speech
Bill Clinton’s Wednesday night speech will be the defining moment of the 2008 Democratic convention. It is the one speech that remains, at least in many minds, unpredictable.
We know that Michelle Obama will give a touching and inspiring speech on Monday night. She will be widely touted for “humanizing” her husband and enhancing her own image.
We know that Hillary Clinton will effusively praise Obama during her Tuesday night speech. She will say everything possible to get her backers to join the Obama express.
And we know that Barack Obama will give a great speech on Thursday.
But what the 11% of Democrats who backed Hillary and tell pollsters they are still wary of Obama want to hear is verification from the Big Dog that Obama should be their guy. Hillary alone cannot provide this verification, because her backers see her pro-Obama statements as part of her playing “good cop, bad cop” with husband Bill.
Bill Clinton has been in a nasty mood for months because he believed he had blown his place in history. His vaunted media skills failed him, and African-Americans – his most loyal constituency – had turned against him, with some even accusing him of racism.
This is not how Bill Clinton wishes to be remembered. And on Wednesday night he has his last chance to restore his reputation
Bill Clinton will give a speech so laudatory of Obama, and so revering of the power of a new generation of activists, that he leaves the Democratic Party jubilant over this powerful sense of unity. And while the strong endorsement by a former Democratic President of the Party’s 2008 nominee should not be a major news story, Clinton’s speech will be treated as a dramatic and outcome-deciding boost for Barack Obama.
Altering the Media Narrative
Bill Clinton’s dramatic praise of Barack Obama and his signaling that the Party’s leadership has shifted will prove the week’s defining moment because it utterly changes the media’s still dominant narrative. This narrative, which the New York Times highlighted as recently as last Friday
, insists that regardless of what Hillary Clinton says or does, her support for Obama remains “tepid.”
Hillary alone cannot change the media’s view that portions of the Clinton base remains estranged, and that the “white working class voter” who voted for her in the primaries will not support Obama. As long as Bill appears unhappy with Obama, the media will continue to write of a party divided and of the Clintons’ base unwilling to support the Democratic nominee.
That’s why Bill Clinton’s speech will both restore his historic legacy and create a new media narrative about this campaign. And the Obama camp will be happy to give Clinton all of the credit for Party unity, as they know that Barack Obama and his core constituencies are the ultimate beneficiaries.
Some Obama backers will perceive the above scenario as Bill Clinton “raining” on Obama’s parade. But the Democratic nominee needs Bill Clinton in his corner to achieve the “working political majority” that is key to moving the country forward in 2009.