Bill Clinton's DNC speech showed he's still got political game


Former president Bill Clinton during his Democratic National Convention speech Tuesday night. - AP PHOTO/CAROLYN KASTER, FILE
  • AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File
  • Former president Bill Clinton during his Democratic National Convention speech Tuesday night.
I was killing time with the boys in a bar Tuesday night when I suddenly realized: Holy shit, Billy C's about to make another one of his fabulous convention speeches.

"Gotta go," I tell my friends. "I don't want to miss Clinton."

"But you can watch it on tape," someone said.

"Forget that—I gotta see it live. This could be a classic."

Within an instant, I was on my bike, racing home as fast as I could pedal.

Confession time! I've had a hopeless love/hate relationship with Bill Clinton almost from the time I started paying attention to him in the 80s.

I know he's a shameless philanderer. I know he doesn't really love me. But still, I can't help myself. 

I get home just as he's taking the stage. I don't even have time to put away my bike—just leave it in the hallway. With my bike helmet still on my head, I turn on the tube as Clinton steps to the podium. 

It's been a while since I've watched him give a speech, and much has changed in his appearance. His hair's all white. An old man's croak has crept into his voice. I notice his hands are shaking. And he's too damn skinny—give that man a Big Mac!

And yet, he's still got the great Clintonian moves—his timing and pace are perfect. He can still make his voice catch with emotion. I feel like I'm watching a great old quarterback limping to the huddle to lead his team on one last march up the field.

As he starts, it's clear his purpose is to make the case for Hillary by offering a contrast to the Attila the Hun portrait of her painted by the Republicans last week at their convention.

He starts when they met as twentysomething law school students in 1971.

"She was wearing a long, white, flowery skirt," he says. "She said she was going to register for classes. . . .We stood in line and talked and I thought I was doing pretty well until we got to the front of the line and the registrar looked up and said, 'Bill, what are you doing here? You registered this morning.'"

Oh, Billy boy—you rascal, you.

"I turned red and she laughed that big laugh of hers. And, well, heck, since my cover's been blown, I just went ahead and asked her to take a walk down to the art museum. We've been walking and talking and laughing together ever since."

That's it, for me—I'm hooked. Tears welling up and everything. I swear, this is straight out of Love Story.

He talks about visiting her hometown—Park Ridge—meeting her family, and taking to the road with her in the early 70s as she traveled across the country helping Mexican-American migrant workers, poor blacks in Alabama, and working people in Texas.

Every now and then he works in a subtle dig at Donald Trump, whom he never mentions by name. 

And so it goes until he gets to "February 27, 1980," when, "Hillary's water broke. And off we went to the hospital. Chelsea was born just before midnight. It was the greatest moment of my life—the miracle of a new beginning."

I know I must be like millions of other baby boomers all over America—thinking back to the day our children were born.

As his voice cracks and his eyes mist over, he runs through a litany of the activities a girl does as she's growing up. It's like a condensed version of Boyhood, only for a girl.  "Nursing school, Montessori, kindergarten, T-ball, softball, soccer, volleyball l. . . "

The point is that Hillary was shlepping Chelsea wherever she had to go, every step of the way. "Hillary, first and foremost, was a mother."

So far it's been a seamless tale. But then he dives into the minutiae of her resume. It's getting a little wonky. He's moving off track. My mind's wandering—I take off my bike helmet.

He should have trimmed this part of the speech. But you know Clinton's always been a little weak when it comes to self-control.

Speaking of which, his chronology eventually reaches 1997—the year he was up to his eyeballs in the whole Monica Lewinsky thing.

Here's his chance to thank Hillary for finding the strength to forgive him. But no, he skips over the whole affair, like it never happened.

I guess there's some things even the great Bill Clinton hasn't figured out how to spin.

He talks about taking Chelsea to college. "There I was in a trance, just staring out the window, trying not to cry. And there was Hillary on her hands and knees, desperately looking for one more drawer to put that liner paper in. Finally, Chelsea took charge and told us ever so gently that it was time for us to go."

My goodness, it's like he snatched that scene straight from the movie The Kids Are All Right

"How did this square with the things that you heard at the Republican convention? How do you square it?" he asks. "You can't.  One is real, the other is made up. You just have to decide which is which, my fellow Americans."

With that he's done, walking off the stage, while the crowd goes wild. 

Meanwhile, I'm running out of tissues. That scene in the dormitory room put me over the top. I don't think I've cried this much since Brian's Song.

Oh, Billy, Billy, Billy—what am I gonna do with you? You may be old, white-haired, and too skinny. And, as always, your politics are to the right of mine.

But you're still the master, playing me like a guitar—again.

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