This was the simple task that awaited Hillary Clinton.
In this one big speech, make the country respect you, trust you, like you.
Convince an electorate that thinks the country is on the wrong track to sign up for a third consecutive term from the same political party.
Turn around the attitudes that give you historically low approval ratings for a Democratic nominee (mitigated only by the fact that Donald Trump’s are slightly worse). Overcome the public perception, driven especially by a recent drubbing from the head of the FBI over how you handled emails as secretary of state, that you’re not to be trusted.
Win over hard-core Bernie Sanders supporters who think you represent what’s wrong with establishment politics and who believe you colluded with the Democratic National Committee to stack the deck against their guy. (And remember that at any minute, they might spoil your special moment with boos and chants. Some even plotted a fart-in by filling up on beans before the speech. Really.)
All the while, make the case that you’re the best person on the planet to deal with the Russians, the Chinese, the North Koreans, the Iranians, the Islamic State and anything else that might pose a danger to the United States.
Try to match the good reviews earlier in this convention given to the speeches of your husband, the vice president, the president and the president’s wife. No pressure.
Especially, come across as nice, likable. Even though you are speaking to a packed arena, be mindful not to shout.
Now, as the cliche goes, do it in heels.
The grades on her performance exposed the usual American Rorschach test, alternating in red and blue.
At play was whether could ever win her own Sally Field moment.
In 1996, Henry Louis Gates at The New Yorker, wrote a profile of then-First Lady Hillary Clinton under fire. The magazine has reposted the piece, implying it that the public’s perception over has moved little over the last 20 years.
“ ‘I apparently remind some people of their mother-in-law or their boss, or something,’ she says. She laughs, but she isn’t joking, exactly.”
She did her best to be both soft and tough. The speech came with her usual careful precision — half the country might say cold calculation.
She talked about her public career, particularly emphasizing her political causes for women and children. She ran through her own biography (after Morgan Freeman had narrated a video on her life). And she talked about the opposition.
Trump, she said, “wants to divide us — from the rest of the world, and from each other. He’s betting that the perils of today’s world will blind us to its unlimited promise. He’s taken the Republican Party a long way … from ‘Morning in America’ to ‘Midnight in America.’ He wants us to fear the future and fear each other.”
Then she quoted Franklin Roosevelt’s famous caution about the perils of “fear itself.”
The country will argue whether Clinton’s talk was more optimistic than Trump’s (critics found him pessimistic — an assessment he rejected), but her’s had a bit of the Bill Clinton wonk. One issue after the next — campaign finance, immigration, climate change, voting rights, guns, race …
She did shout at times, keeping pace with a hall that wanted to get loud (including chants of “Hill-a-ry” to drown out some hecklers).
All the tweets and pundit post-game yammer won’t really tell us whether Clinton passed her big test on Thursday. That’ll come in polls over the coming weeks and, ultimately, on Election Day.