Let’s just get this out of the way. This was a little weird.
A former president talks to his convention, and the country, about sending his wife back to the Oval Office as the boss.
Hillary Clinton is not, has never been, just the wife to an ambitious man. It’s long been their shared ambition, their shared politics and policy. They succeeded, in elections that sent them first to Little Rock and later to Washington.
Then Bill Clinton had an affair with an intern in the same White House he shared with his wife and daughter. And we all watched the ordeal spill out in public for what seemed like forever. “Primary Colors,” it turned out, was only semi-fictional.
Next she got elected to the U.S. Senate, ran for president and lost. Now she’s running again, making history this time by being the first woman nominated by a major party for president.
While she’s every bit the wonk that Bill is, she’s never had his gift for winning over Joe Six Pack. So he took the stage Tuesday with the job of boosting her campaign — without performing so well that it might somehow diminish her in comparison.
Complicating matters are the various conflicts of interest he might represent. Already, funding for and from the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation has raised eyebrows. Saudi Arabia, for instance, gave money to the foundation before and after her time as secretary of state, although not when she was in the Obama administration.
It’s just a taste of the sort of controversy sure to follow the first-ever First Dude should Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump. What’s more, there’s notion of what role he’ll play in a third Clinton term.
When Bill Clinton ran for one office and the next, the idea of Hillary Clinton was sold as a plus — buy one, get two. It’s less clear if the return of The Big Dog to Pennsylvania Avenue this time would seem so welcome by the American electorate.
As the kids say, awkward.
As a highly produced video put up a cheery view of the first Clinton presidency, the country was already of two minds over what it was about to see.
So, yeah, Bill, what have you got to say?
“In the spring of 1971,” he started, “I met a girl.”
The love story set-up felt a tad uncomfortable, given that the the audience knew it wasn’t totally happily ever after.
“I just went ahead asked her to take a walk to the art museum. We’ve been walking and talking and laughing ever since.” Aw, shucks.
Give him credit, he moved on from the mushy stuff quickly, turning to work she did to expose illegal segregation, to register minority voters, to work on for poor children.
Wait, he was back to their romance. She, according to his story, turned down his first proposal so that she could keep working on enrolling children in school. Before you knew it, he was talking policy, and how the government needed to step in to make sure children with disabilities could get an equal education.
Then back to him proposing again. Ultimately, in his telling, he proposed a third time and closed the deal by saying he’d bought a house she’d admired.
“I married my best friend,” he said.
His speech built, piece by piece, on the theme that she’d sacrificed her considerable prospects to propel the career of an Arkansas boy.
Then more about her work on schools in Arkansas, creating the Children’s Health Insurance Program, cutting peace deals as secretary of state.
“She’s the best darn change maker I’ve ever met in my entire life,” Bill said of Hillary. Sure, she’s been around in politics forever, he said. But he argued that “she always wants to move the ball forward. That’s just who she is.”
Meantime, the internet was remembering everything else about the Clintons, especially in reference to Monica Lewinsky.
In the hall, the crowd seemed in the palm of his hand. No Bernie bros booing. Silence when he talked. Laughs when he joked. Cheers when he laid out his wife’s resume.
At Politico, Henry C. Jackson saw the “Clintonian subtlety that marks his best speeches (and) taking opposition’s complaints about him … and dissecting them and dismissing them.”
Indeed, after telling the Bill-and-Hill story, he was on to making the political case against Trump and the Republicans and for Hillary Clinton and the Democrats.
He’s trimmer than the president we knew, but the same lip biting was there, the hoarse Arkansas twang and the emphatic argument for what’s on tap for the day. Yet he cast himself among those who “have more yesterdays than tomorrows.”
“The reason you should elect her is that in the greatest country on Earth we have always been about tomorrow,” he closed. “Your children and grandchildren will bless you forever if you do.”
The insta-analysis afterward held that the ol’ guy still has some stemwinders left in him.
“We may never know how much pure compost was in that tale,” Brit Hume said on the Fox News Channel, “but the guy still has his fastball.”
Twitter was both less forgiving or more admiring. But when Bill Clinton talks, America still watches.