Thursday, September 6, 2012

Bill Clinton, masterful orator

Thanks to You Tube, I've just watched Bill Clinton's speech, about 22 hours after the event, and I have to say it's one of the most masterful speeches I've ever heard. The former president was extraordinary in multiple ways — his arguments, his timing (including comic timing), his rhetoric, his command of facts, and his ability to excite the partisan crowd. If he'd been passing out Kool-Aid at the end, everyone would have drunk it. He looked better than he had as president. Post-heart problems, he's lost weight, and his face is leaner and smoother; I'd almost bet he's had plastic surgery or some fancy facials.

Clinton, who is probably the best American politician (i.e., campaigner, negotiator, deal maker) of the last 30 years, maybe 50 years (which would rank him ahead of Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan, two very different masters in their own right), hit all his marks in Wednesday night's nominating speech. He was droll; he was funny; he was philosophical; he was inspiring. He offered an encyclopedic memory for facts and numbers (mostly all true or mostly so, the fact-checkers have said), and he had the delegates leaping to their feet and shouting for more.

I've always contended that the great speeches of my lifetime were Kennedy's inaugural address, Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech, Kennedy's Berlin Wall speech, and Reagan's Pointe du Hoc speech commemorating D-Day. I have to consider Clinton's speech Wednesday night on the same plane as these others. In effectiveness — getting the audience fired up — Clinton may have exceeded them all except King. Clinton's speech was long, about 50 minutes, compared to Kennedy's five minutes at the Berlin Wall, and that was always Clinton's weakness. He would drone on for an hour for a State of the Union address, but at the convention this week, he kept your attention, and the 50 minutes passed quickly.

Obama fans proclaim him as a great orator, and he's had his moments of greatness, but Clinton, his senior by a few years, took him to school on rhetoric and argument and holding the audience in the palm of your hand Wednesday night.

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