The Big Dog, The Cool Cat, And The Cuckoo Birds
The Big Dog rolled into town last week. He was giving a speech and spent the night in the guest bedroom. He’s a little older and grayer but he’s still the same BMOC you remembered. He made your kids laugh, ate prodigious quantities of food, drank your wine, hugged your wife an eighth of a second too long, kept you up way too late. The following morning he poked you out of bed at a ridiculous hour, and took you and your hangover out for a five-mile run.
Bill Clinton came to Charlotte to nominate Barack Obama and the veteran hurler showed he can still bring it. All the repertory was still there. The slider that seems to come in straight, but breaks down and away from right handed hitters. The sinker that starts as a hittable whisper and ends at your shoe-tops. That inside fastball of his, a little high and a little tight, but never aimed at the head and always thrown with a smile. And finally, his eephus pitch, a fifty-five mile an hour floater that looks so tantalizing that you either freeze, or swing (and miss) so hard it pulls you out of your shoes.
Barack Obama made a calculated gamble bringing Bill in. There’s an old adage in the theatre that you never share the stage with a cute child or a cuter animal, but the President knew he needed something different, a little star power other than his own. After nearly four years of the often-painful prose of governing, Obama sensed the electorate wasn’t looking for a revival of his particular brand of 2008 vintage poetry.
So Obama was a Cool Cat. He’s usually cool; he has to be, given the vitriol that is routinely thrown in his direction. When the announcement was made, Mitt’s campaign and the conservative media establishment went into conspiratorial spin mode. The most persistent refrains were that Obama was desperate, and that Bill would go off the reservation and barely talk about the man he was nominating. Bill’s eyes, they said, were firmly planted on a 2016 Clinton Restoration in the White House.
None of that happened, of course. Bill was Bill, explaining, teasing, charming, ad-libbing (about 2000 words of ad-libbing) revving up the crowd and making them laugh. For the last four years, Republicans have been unrelenting in characterizing Obama as The Other-a strange alien being, birth certificate deprived, a Kenyan socialist, etc. But Bill Clinton is jazz, a pure American art form; his drive, in his appetites, his gestures, his accent. Bill blessed Barack, and dismantled the GOP’s personal attacks and policy drive while he was doing it.
The morning after, some on the Right sneered at Clinton’s speech as some corn-pone hokum, but wiser heads tried to pivot. Romney himself beamed upon Bill. Clinton was a fine and moderate man, very bipartisan and a pretty fair President. The GOP loved Bill. They have always loved Bill If only Barack were like Bill.
Bill didn’t take the bait, and interestingly enough, neither did Obama. He didn’t try to outdo Bill. Obama’s acceptance speech was almost pedestrian. He didn’t soar. He talked about governing, and the work undone, and his plans for the future. He hit a few ideological touch-points, he complimented his listeners, and he thanked Michelle. But Obama wasn’t the striver anymore, he was the President, and he acted like one.
The professional politician and media review was fairly negative. The Right jumped all over him. Obama was boring, flat, Romney was better, and Clinton showed him up. Obama’s regular supporters expressed disappointment. From the mainstream newspapers, a sigh over the lost opportunities to make big concessions in a void. From the Left, well, Barack may have been last summer’s romance, but the Cool Cat was no competition for the Big Dog. All agreed, a subpar performance from a fading star.
Except, some odd things began to happen. Obama the orator might have been out, but Obama the President got a little traction. His convention bounce was a bit bigger than Mitt’s, and there were rumors that Mitt and friends were pulling ads in Pennsylvania and Michigan. Bill’s good-humored but careful dissection of everything Romney/Ryan had an impact as well. People listen to Bill. Romney suddenly backtracked on certain aspects of Obamacare. And Ryan insisted that Bill was wrong, everything in the Romney Plan would benefit everyone, but he couldn’t share the details.
Bill Clinton did what Bill Clinton does best--make the Right a little crazy. The GOP’s supporters in the press, mindful of Clinton’s enormous popularity, stayed away from him but doubled down on the anti-Obama rhetoric: Theissen, Gerson, Douthat, Brooks, Kudlow, Noonan, the entire Fox Empire, all in their own special way.
That outrage is causing some of them to crack. George Will, stalwart standard-bearer of the Right for 40 years, may have finally lost his bearings. Late last week he published a stunner, blaming the authoritarian nature of college and professional football on the Progressive Movement and the Democrats. To read Will, you would think “Friday Night Lights” was originally to be set in Manhattan, and all those football coaches only pretend to be devout Republicans. In fact, they are a Fifth Column meant to undermine the patriotic culture of the South. As a public service, I’m providing the link. Read the column, and I think you will see that the Cuckoo Clock may be starting to chime in some households.
Does this mean Obama is going to win? Definitely not. Conventions bounces are, by their nature, ethereal. The debates are coming up. The big money continues to pour into the GOP and friendly coffers. Plenty of time and plenty of cash are available. And plenty of anti-Obama sentiment.
But for many, the irony meter no longer registers. This past weekend, I got the following text: “Just walked past an elderly woman, wispy gray hair, quite thin, well-turned-out, with beige crocheted gloves, a hat, sunglasses, and a button that, when I passed close enough to be able to read it, said "Socialism is not an American value."
Hang in there, George Will. Help is on the way.