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Democrats In The City Of Brotherly Love (Primetime)

Today I'd like to take a look at the four nights by focusing in only on the prime-time hour that appeared on broadcast television. For all the other things that happened on the stage of the convention, you always had to wonder: "Is anyone else out there actually even seeing this stuff?"
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Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton on stage after accepting the nomination on the fourth and final night at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. U.S. July 28, 2016. REUTERS/Charles Mostoller
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton on stage after accepting the nomination on the fourth and final night at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. U.S. July 28, 2016. REUTERS/Charles Mostoller

As I write this, the birds are chirping outside my window, the sun is breaking through the morning coastal fog, and the temperature is unremarkable. In other words, your traveling correspondent is back home, leaving behind record-breaking 90-plus-degree temperatures and humidity being so important the television weathermen actually report on it each night (cue Steve Martin from L.A. Story: "Our next weather report will be in four days"). Yes, it's good to be back in California, at least as far as the weather's concerned.

I have to say I shirked a lot of work during last week's Democratic National Convention, but this was due to (1) there not being enough hours in the day, and (2) trying to operate (as it was) on five-or-less hours of sleep each night. Also minor hassles like WiFi not being available when it would have helped the most. But enough self-recrimination. The good news is I took full notes of everything, so I've got at least a few more goodly-sized columns to write. Oh, and also some pictures -- that might just have to be a separate column on its own (perhaps tomorrow, we'll see).

Today I'd like to take a look at the four nights by focusing in only on the prime-time hour that appeared on broadcast television. For all the other things that happened on the stage of the convention, you always had to wonder: "Is anyone else out there actually even seeing this stuff?" I mean, cable channels did cover the convention live and you could even just tap into the feed (without all the commentary, in other words), but I wonder how many voters devote that kind of time and attention to this stuff.

Instead, even committed voters, for the most part, will only tune in for one hour a night -- and that's a maximum, since a whole lot of others only bother with the final night's final hour. But, looking back over the articles I've filed, I've been giving the big hour each night short shrift. This is (again) due to being exhausted, since I'd sit down to type about a certain night and then by the time I got to the big hour in the chronology, my eyes were barely open -- so I just posted what I had. So today, to rectify this lack in my coverage, I'm just going to concentrate on the four big hours.

Day One -- Liberally Speaking

There were many prominent liberals and progressives who spoke before the big hour, but the main draw was the final two speakers of the night: Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. Michelle Obama also got a spot, which quite likely was originally supposed to be the big keynote of the night. The addition of Bernie and Elizabeth (or the scheduling of them in the most prominent spots) was one of those things that the Bernie camp fought for with the Democratic National Committee and the convention organizers. It was kind of a last-minute change, in other words.

Before I review the speeches themselves, I have to say that the order (Obama, Warren, Sanders) would have worked a lot better if Michelle had been bumped up (Warren, Obama, Sanders). Bernie Sanders had to be last, mostly because he earned such recognition with his historic campaign. Warren, however, could have easily been outranked by the First Lady.

Michelle Obama was introduced by someone who was screwed over by Trump University. This sort of staging is pretty much par for the course for conventions, but it worked well. However, again, this is the type of thing that people watching at home probably missed. When convention coverage starts at the top of the hour, most networks have a little gab-fest among the reporters for a few minutes before actually providing coverage of what is happening on stage. I did manage last Monday to review both Obama's and Warren's speeches after they happened (far into the wee hours of that night). In other words, if you've read this before, then feel free to just skip over it.

After a short introduction to lead off the primetime hour of coverage by the broadcast networks, First Lady Michelle Obama walked onto the stage. A virtual sea of "Michelle" signs began waving, and she proceeded to absolutely knock it out of the park. It was the best speech I've ever heard her give -- by far. The pictures she verbally painted were absolutely flawless, beginning by talking about her children growing up in the White House, followed by a brilliant segue to defining what was most important about presidential elections: "Who will next have the power to shape our children's lives?"

Obama gave a not-so-subtle rebuke (an iron fist in a velvet glove) to Sanders supporters by reminding them what Hillary Clinton did eight years ago when she lost a close contest to Michelle's husband: "When she didn't get the nomination eight years ago, she didn't get angry or disillusioned!" Obama smacked Trump around a bit, noting that presidential leadership "cannot be boiled down to 140 characters." She made her moral and historical case, noting, "I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves." That's a pretty powerful image, you've got to admit. She ended up with something conservatives have always complained is lacking from the Obamas -- some classic American exceptionalism: "This right now is the greatest country on Earth."

Michelle Obama's speech was easily the best of the evening. It may even become the best of the entire convention, in the same way that Bill Clinton's speech was the best of the 2012 convention. We've got three nights of impressive speakers to go, so such a conclusion is premature at best, but Michelle Obama's speech was truly good enough to be a contender for this prize. Again, she absolutely knocked it out of the park. There's just no other way to put it.

Elizabeth Warren followed, after an introduction from Joe Kennedy III (who told an amusing story about being Warren's student). But even though I am a fan of Warren, I have to say she had an off night. Perhaps it was the fact she followed such a bang-up speech from the First Lady, but Warren's speech seemed a bit unemotional and flat, at least to me (I am, I should mention, operating on very little sleep, so I might just have been getting tired at this point). In fact, I wasn't the only one to comment afterwards that the order of the two speeches should really have been reversed. Warren would have done a better job giving her speech before Obama, rather than following her.

A side note is necessary here, before I get to the keynote of the evening. I was sitting up in the rafters (better to view the entire crowd's reaction), and even up in the nosebleed seats, right before every speaker appeared, helpful volunteers appeared to distribute the proper placards to wave for that particular speech. We got "Michelle" sticks to wave, Hillary slogan posters, and -- most amazing of all -- "Bernie" signs to wave for the final speech. This is notable for two reasons. The first is the nuts-and-bolts of the organization, which was flawless. Not only were people down on the floor and the delegates in the lower tiers given stuff to wave for the cameras, but those of us in the upper decks were also not left out -- even though the cameras likely wouldn't even catch anyone up there waving their signs. That's an impressive feat of coordination and pre-planning, to put it mildly. Secondly, it was downright stunning to be provided with signs with the losing candidate's name on them -- by the convention itself. This, to put it plainly, is not normal. Usually, the fear of a divided message means only the nominee is featured on such paraphernalia. But thousands of "Bernie!" signs were handed out free of charge, for the runner-up's supporters. That is beyond impressive, and shows what an inclusive note Team Hillary is striving for. Kudos to them for going far beyond the norm, in other words.

Bernie Sanders gave the speech of his life tonight. When he walked on the stage, the crowd went bananas. The cheering, the repeated standing ovations, and the thunderous chanting were unbelievable for a runner-up. The crowd just would not quit making noise for many moments (I'd love to time this, to see how long it took before he could even be heard over the din).

This is the point in the narrative where I collapsed over the keyboard, in essence (the post I did manage to get up has a timestamp of 2:37 in the morning). So let's pick up the story after all that cheering finally died down a tad.

Bernie knew full well that this was his swan song, at least on the national stage. He might go on to do great things in the Senate or see some of his proposals become reality, but he'll never again have an audience as big, either physically in the same building or nationally on television. All of his supporters were in the house to hear his speech (the pro-Bernie walkouts wouldn't begin until the next evening). The Hillary supporters were mostly feeling magnanimous in victory and also showed Bernie some love.

Bernie started off by defining what this presidential race has meant on his terms. He's been doing this all along, and he has had an enormous influence on the direction of the debate, both within the Democratic Party and among the general voting public. Sanders pointedly thanked President Obama for doing such a great job over the last eight years, which all the folks in the crowd (pro-Bernie and pro-Hillary) could certainly agree with, so that got a big cheer.

Then he got to the endorsement section of the speech. Bernie framed it in unequivocal language -- why Hillary Clinton must be the next president, rather than why she merely should be president. He made a strong case, but his supporters were none too happy about it. From where I sat (high in the rafters), the cheering for Hillary outweighed the booing, but not by a whole lot. It was a very mixed crowd response, to put it mildly. Some folks even pointedly stood up and headed for the exits -- although whether these were Hillary supporters bored with Bernie's speech or Bernie supporters disgusted with his endorsement was impossible to tell, from where I sat. There was also some irate chanting a little later on, but the cheers for Bernie eventually got louder than the dissenters.

After Bernie's speech got over the big hurdle of the Clinton endorsement, however, it picked up some steam as it got rolling. I've seen Bernie speak twice in person already, and when he hits his stride he is one of the best political speakers I've seen, knowing when to pump up the crowd and when to quiet things down. His laugh lines worked well too ("Trump believes in yuuuuge tax breaks!") All around, Bernie gave a great speech to the convention.

Bernie ran down what a Trump presidency would mean, including reminding everyone of the importance of the Supreme Court. Barring a lame-duck confirmation of Obama's pick, the next president is going to get a momentous Supreme Court pick on their very first day in office, which is definitely relevant in deciding whom to vote for.

Bernie did a victory lap, of sorts, which he has also earned. He highlighted how he got Clinton to adopt his position on tuition-free college, which happened after the primary season had ended. There is no doubt Bernie has had an enormous impact on the Democratic Party and their official nominee, that's for sure.

Now maybe I was just tired, but I did think Bernie went on a little too long at the end. He could have cut about 10 minutes of his speech and it would have been better for it. But, like I say, this may have been subjective as it came at the end of a long night of speechifying. Sanders did have a big finish (including a call to block the Trans-Pacific Partnership in the lame duck Congress, which got an enormous cheer from the crowd.

To be scrupulously fair here, by this point the arena was only about 70 percent full. A whole lot of Hillary supporters had quietly left the building, in other words. This changed the audience reaction, since the people who stayed were on Bernie's side to one degree or another. I saw tears running down the faces of many a Bernie supporter by the time he finished, and for the biggest speech of his life, I'd have to say it lived up to the billing. Bernie cares deeply about his ideas, he believes in what he believes, and that is exactly what you get when you hear him speak. His convention speech was the crown jewel of the speeches he has been giving since he started his campaign, which inspired millions and millions of Americans to believe that our government can do better for the average Joe -- a lot better, as a matter of fact. If what I saw in the arena is any indication, Bernie's revolution is not going to just end because he didn't quite manage to get the Democratic nomination. His influence on the party at large might indeed only grow from this point forward. All in all, an excellent speech and an excellent swan song for his presidential campaign.

Day Two -- Bubba's Girl

The second day of the convention was nearly as contentious as the first, but also like the first had noticeably calmed down by the time the big primetime hour started. Earlier in the day the roll call of states took place, and Bernie Sanders himself had proposed that the convention unanimously nominate Hillary Clinton, which prompted a walkout by some pro-Bernie (or even "Bernie or Bust") states and groups of delegates. I personally caught the tail end of this protest, as the media tent where I was diligently typing away was occupied for more than half an hour. I've updated my report from that night, if anyone's interested.

Inside the arena, the big speaker of the night was none other than the former president, the nominee's husband, and quite possibly the first "First Gentleman" our country will ever have. I speak, of course, of the Big Dog himself, Bill Clinton.

He was preceded by Amy Klobuchar, a presentation on human trafficking, and Madeleine Albright, but Clinton's was definitely the big speech of the night. Bill actually kept his speaking time fairly short, clocking in at around a svelte (for him) 45 minutes.

Now, afterwards, I heard a lot of pundits' reaction to Bill's speech, which all seemed to conclude that (1) it wasn't the best speech he's ever given, and (2) this was because he was speaking about another politician instead of himself. I tend to agree with the first one, but disagree strongly with the second of those memes. I've personally heard Bill Clinton speak three times now -- his inaugural speech, last week, and his speech to the 2012 Democratic National Convention. That's just in person, mind you -- I've watched Clinton speak on television more times that I can count (adding up all the State Of The Union addresses together with political speeches I've heard), but to me the best speech I ever heard Bill give was four years ago in Charlotte -- when he spoke in support of Barack Obama's re-election. That speech, in fact, was the best one of the entire convention, and it later led Obama to joke he should appoint Bill "Secretary of Explainin' Stuff." My point is, Bill can indeed give an excellent speech, even for another politician.

But while Bill's speech seemed a little off (for him) last week, there is a very good reason for this. The first is that I believe Bill to be fully capable of ripping the roof off with a blowout speech in full-throated support of his wife's candidacy (indeed, as he did for Barack Obama). But that's not what Bill's job was for this convention. Unlike with Barack Obama, Bill Clinton is the closest person to Hillary Clinton and has been for her entire adult life. That gives him a unique perspective, and that unique perspective was always going to be deployed to humanize Hillary Clinton. That, in other words, was precisely the job Bill had to do last Tuesday.

On that level alone, Bill did fantastic. His speech was unlike any other speech he's given in his life. He has told the story of meeting her before, but he has never gone into such detail and devoted an entire speech to sharing his life with this very powerful woman. His "girl" (as he kept putting it) was an image of Hillary that few have seen in such touching detail. The stories about her early life reached a whole lot of Americans who didn't know anything about what she did with her life before she became First Lady Clinton. Bill told interesting and inspirational stories about her work for children and the disadvantaged that did precisely what they were designed to do -- show another and more sympathetic side of Hillary.

This started from the first words out of his mouth, after the intro video ended. Bill began his speech with: "In the spring of 1971, I met a girl." He went on to the rest of his courtship of Hillary Rodham, he went into her background, and he shared details I didn't even know about (Hillary spent a season sliming fish in Alaska? Who knew?).

The stories of Hillary as Chelsea's loving mother were just as good. This is really standard campaign-bio stuff, but it is exactly the side of Hillary that she herself never projects on the campaign trail (and for good reason -- being the first woman means letting others make that particular case for you, lest you be called "too weak and motherly"). Bill was the only one who had the first-hand knowledge of this part of his wife's persona, and he did an excellent job of it.

He segued from Hillary-as-Mom into her work for children's health, which was a pretty smooth transition. Both Bill and Hillary have been called to task before for overstating her importance in getting the CHIP children's health program enacted (and for not giving Teddy Kennedy the lion's share of the credit), and Bill once again failed to mention Kennedy's name. But that's pretty wonky nitpicking, since Hillary did fully support the idea once her husband signed it into law.

Bill continued to lay out his wife's own legacy, all the way up to the last government job she had as Secretary of State, and then he shifted gears and started in on Donald Trump and the Republican National Convention. Bill started his riff off with a stark comparison of the presentation of Hillary Clinton both conventions presented. The Republicans, he stated, had a "cartoon" version, whereas the real Hillary was being introduced in Philadelphia. "One is real, the other is made up," Bill explained, then he really hit his stride with a list of what "the real one" is all about. By the end of it, the audience was chanting this phrase along with Bill. He even got in a few folksy lines ("Republicans could mess up a two-car parade"), showing why he is such good friends with James Carville. He built up to the big finish: "Earlier today, you nominated the real one," which the crowd absolutely loved, roaring back "Hil-la-ry!" with one voice. Bill must have been warned about running on too long, because after grinning broadly at the chanting crowd, he admonished them: "We gotta get back on schedule!"

Bill's entire list of Hillary's real (rather than cartoon) positions was to present her as an agent of change. This is kind of a tightrope to walk, because after all she is running to replace a Democratic president well-loved within his own party. So "change" isn't as powerful, and can't go too far, because it could be seen as not approving of Obama's legacy. Bill managed to walk this tightrope, however, and ended up with: "She is still the best darn changemaker I have ever known."

If there's one thing the Big Dog knows how to do, it is how to finish a speech. Indeed, Bill might have had the most rousing end to any convention speaker this week, as he brought it all home in his final minutes. He almost sounded like a Kennedy towards the end (his voice and cadence were reminiscent of J.F.K., at least to me). When he ended, the arena exploded in cheers and applause. As I said, Bill's no stranger to the proper way to seal the deal in a political speech, and it was a joy to watch him do so for his wife.

Day Three -- Kaine and Obama

Day Three of the convention had many other meaningful speeches (such as those given by Joe Biden and Michael Bloomberg, to name just two), but we're sticking to covering just those given in primetime here for the moment.

The first person to speak after the networks started their coverage was the 2016 vice-presidential candidate, Tim Kaine. Kaine had officially become the nominee earlier in the day in a ceremony that lacked all the drama of the first two days (the rules battle and the nomination of Hillary Clinton). Since Bernie Sanders never actually had a running mate, there wasn't anything for his supporters to protest about these proceedings, in other words.

Like almost all the major speakers, we first saw a video of Tim Kaine's bio, and then the candidate walked out on stage. The crowd tried to get excited, but it did sound a bit subdued. Hey, it's hard to give a speech right before the sitting president talks, so this is really understandable.

Kaine began with a shoutout to his own son, who had deployed overseas only two days earlier, ending with a big "Semper Fi" to his son. He then humbly accepted his party's nomination. He almost immediately (and at several other points during the speech) began speaking in Spanish, which was a big deciding factor for Hillary Clinton picking him (at least, so the story goes). Kaine seemed pretty much as billed -- an average-Joe kind of guy with a lovely family. Out in the audience, "Clinton/Kaine" signs appeared for the first time at the convention.

Kaine moved on to extend a direct invitation to Republicans horrified by Donald Trump's antics, letting such voters know: "If any of you are looking for that party of Lincoln, we've got a home for you right here in the Democratic Party." It was an effective line, and one that he'll likely be leaning on out on the campaign trail in the near future.

Kaine also reached out to Bernie supporters, showing some love for Sanders. This sparked a spirited chant of "Bernie! Bernie!" from the hall. Kaine praised Bernie's campaign, and wound up with: "We should all feel the Bern!"

The audience in the hall Wednesday night had changed in two ways. First, there were a lot more of them. Monday and Tuesday nights, the arena was mostly full -- even up to the highest seats -- but every single seat wasn't taken. Both nights were anywhere from 85 to 95 percent full at any given time, from what I could see. Wednesday night was essentially 110-plus-percent full. What I mean by that is that inside the arena, every single seat was taken, for the final hours. You didn't get up and wander around (for food, or bathroom, or a cigarette, or whatever), because when you came back not only would your seat be gone, but you wouldn't even be allowed back into your section -- because the ushers had absolutely closed it down, leaving a very long line of people waiting for someone to exit (the ushers would let one person up for every one that left). That is a full arena, filled far beyond 100 percent.

The second way the audience had shifted (at least in primetime) was that the Bernie protesters were a lot fewer and farther between. I counted only a handful of even the most respectful protesters (those who merely waved "No TPP" signs) -- a big drop from the first two nights. This was in the final hour, although there was a noticeable anti-war protest earlier, when Leon Panetta spoke (but I'm digressing away from my primetime-only focus, so I'll say no more about that now).

Kaine did have a few good interactions with the crowd, which shows he may have the potential to grow beyond being "boring" (as he called himself on a recent Sunday political show). After delivering one of his lines in Spanish, a very clear "Sí se puede!" was heard from the audience. Kaine acknowledged the cry and repeated it, and soon the whole crowd picked up the chant. As I said, maybe he's got some political potential that nobody has yet seen in him, who knows?

Kaine talked up Hillary Clinton as a trustworthy leader, ending with the powerful statement (about his son in the military): "I trust Hillary Clinton with our son's life." For a simple yet poignant way to make this point, it was a real winner.

The vice-presidential candidate in modern American presidential races is supposed to take on the job of being the best surrogate attack dog against the nominee from the other party. Kaine did surprisingly well at this, at least in my opinion. He went on a long riff on Trump saying "believe me" all the time, pointing out how it's really only dishonest people who use this line obsessively. Kaine gave a long list of things Trump has said "believe me" on, pointing out how downright unbelievable he is on each of them ("there's nothing suspicious in my tax returns, believe me"). Kaine rejected these with offhand responses such as: "Does anyone here believe him?" and (on the tax returns): "Hey, Donald, what're you hiding?" All of this got big crowd reactions, and really woke everyone up (funny moment: someone up in the rafters tried to get an anti-Trump chant going: "Lock him up!"). When Kaine stated that "not one word" of what Trump had to say could be believable, a spontaneous "Not one word!" chant sprang up. Kaine actually had fun with this, and began directing it just like a rock star having a ball with an audience ("Let's see what this side of the arena thinks"... "NOT ONE WORD!").

One negative point is worth pointing out, however: Kaine really needs to work on his Donald Trump accent, if he's going to poke fun at it (his "Trump" sounded decidedly un-Trump-like -- it needs lots more practice). He was funny riffing on Trump's words, he's just got to get a little closer to the Trumpian accent, that's all.

Kaine built up to a rousing finish, and I had to admit I was kind of surprised how well his anti-Trump bits worked. Perhaps there's a lot more hope for him being a successful attack dog than anyone foresaw.

But while the crowd had a good time getting to know their new vice-presidential nominee, the hall was packed for one big reason. President Barack Obama took the stage after a Gold Star mother did a short but very endearing introduction. Her best line: "I wish every American could hug President Obama." And this wasn't even the most memorable Gold Star parent of the convention, I should point out (which would happen on the following night).

When the president walked out, the arena exploded in a frenzy of love. "O-ba-ma!" chants filled the air. An enormous and long-lasting standing ovation greeted Obama. Further chants of "YES WE CAN!" greeted him as well. Women were fainting in the aisles (well, OK, that last one was an exaggeration, but the rest of them weren't). The crowd loved even seeing the leader of their party, which shouldn't be a notable thing at a national convention, but this is in fact the first time since Ronald Reagan (in 1988) that a sitting president is openly campaigning for his successor. To put this another way, we haven't seen Dubya grace a Republican National Convention since 2004, when he was the actual candidate.

Obama started with a quick rundown of his impressive legacy, adding in a new stat to tout: "almost 15 million new jobs created." He then had a few words to say about the doom and gloom in America the Republicans had painted in Cleveland, stating: "that is not the America I know." Obama has certainly earned this victory lap, that's for sure, after eight years of Republicans predicting the sky would fall with just about everything Obama managed to accomplish (with virtually none of it coming true, by the way).

Obama then moved on to heaping praise on Hillary Clinton, which the crowd also roared for. Well, while there were huge chants of "Hil-la-ry!" it must also be reported that every once in a while some folks would stand up and scream "Four more years!" which was a bit amusing (oh, that pesky Twenty-Second Amendment!). Obama got off a great riff on a famous line about Fred Astaire, stating that during the 2008 campaign, Hillary was "doing everything I was doing, but just like Ginger Rogers, she was doing it backwards in high heels," which got a huge laugh. Obama stated that Hillary was the most qualified president ever, being careful to point out that this meant no other Democrat could match her qualifications -- "not me, not Bill" -- which also got a big chuckle.

When Donald Trump's name came up, there were (of course) boos from the crowd. Obama got off a line he's been using for a while (but which plenty of people had never heard before): "Don't boo -- vote!" Obama was -- compared to some of the other speakers -- fairly restrained when attacking Trump, sticking mostly to the high road in doing so: "The American Dream is something no wall will contain."

Obama then also gave a big shout-out to Bernie Sanders, which got another huge cheer from the crowd. "Feel the Bern!" was chanted, but at this point the audience felt a lot more unified and cohesive than on the previous two nights. Obama made the point that if the Bernie revolution is to continue then people had to vote even in off years and down the ballot as well. It was a cogent point, since Democrats have all but sat out the last two midyear elections, and as a direct result gotten "shellacked" (in Obama's own words) in both of them. Obama challenged Bernie lovers to "get into the arena" since "Democracy is not a spectator sport." Again, the crowd seemed to enjoy this line of thinking immensely.

Obama then had a few things to say about his own family history, including a funny joke about early relatives who weren't "asked to show their birth certificate." But at some point around this time, Obama's speech kind of slowed down. As with most of the other primetime speakers (with the exception of, surprisingly enough, Bill Clinton), a good 10 minutes could have been cut without subtracting from Obama's speech much if at all. Nitpicking aside (and, once again, I have to say that this impression might have just been my own exhaustion), Obama built to his usual standard of rousing big finish, ending his speech by basically raising the roof a foot or so.

This was immediately followed by a surprise appearance by Hillary Clinton, who walked on stage (but did not address the crowd). Obama and Clinton shared a close hug, but what I wondered was what Obama said in her ear while doing so. He made some sort of comment to her which she laughed at, but surely would have loved to have been close enough to hear it (or, perhaps, to have had an open mike catch it). What did Obama say to Hillary? Your guess is as good as mine (mine would be: "It may have taken awhile, but doesn't it feel good to be here?").

Day Four -- The Nominee Speaks

Once again, Day Four had lots of important things going on before primetime hour, but I have to limit my review here to just the big hour of the night (or I'm never going to finish this). I have plenty of things to say about the non-primetime events of the last two days, though, but they'll all have to wait for another day and a different column.

Day Four was the cleanest and simplest presentation for the final hour. Chelsea Clinton introduced her mother, a bio video played, and then Hillary Clinton spoke. This worked great, because sometimes a clean presentation works better than trying to overschedule things.

I have to admit I hadn't seen Chelsea speak much before this evening. I never caught her (overpriced) commentary on NBC and I don't think I've ever heard her even interviewed in-depth before now, so I didn't have a whole lot of preconceived notions as to how her introductory speech would be. Her presentation struck me as a bit slow-moving, but then again maybe that's just the way she speaks in public or her accent or something. In other words, she wasn't a polished public speaker the way that most of the politicians we saw were, but then again that was kind of the point.

Chelsea's job, not unlike Bill's, was to humanize her mother for the American public. Chelsea began with stories of how she herself is now a new mother and is now reliving things that Hillary did with her, just from another perspective. She name-dropped some children's books (Chugga Chugga Choo Choo? Wasn't familiar with that one, personally), and spoke of her love of dinosaurs as a child, as well as her father's love for all six (six? really?) Police Academy movies.

The crowd gave Chelsea a lot of love, and her speech was pretty humanizing towards her mother, so it definitely did the job it was supposed to. Chelsea did show some real emotion towards the end, when speaking of her grandmother and how she would have loved to see this day. After Chelsea finished, we got a very well-produced campaign bio of Hillary, narrated by none other than the "voice of God," Morgan Freeman. After Chelsea's heartfelt speech and the bio video, the crowd was more than ready to hear Hillary speak to them.

Her campaign theme "fight song" played, the crowd delivered an endless standing ovation, and flags waved everywhere in the arena. Again, I'll have more to say about these flags in another article, but they certainly gave a red-white-and-blue feeling to the whole event. The first (of many) raucous "HIL-LA-RY!" chants broke out before she could even speak. In short, the crowd was extremely happy -- nay, overjoyed -- to see the first woman presidential nominee in major party history.

Now, before I get into the play-by-play of Hillary's speech, I have to give my overall impression first. I was kind of surprised to hear wildly different takes on her speech afterwards out in the punditocracy, but what follows is my own untainted impression of Clinton's speech, jotted down in my personal notes.

I honestly thought it was the best speech Hillary Clinton has ever given in her life.

I say this even though I was a Bernie Sanders supporter, and even though I have been critical of Hillary Clinton (both of her positions and her speaking style) during this campaign season. I'm not a big Hillary fan to begin with, in other words, but I do try to keep to my "reality-based" motto, and by that yardstick I thought that if she didn't hit it out of the park entirely, she at least got a solid triple and wound up squarely on third base -- without even having to slide. Too baseball-ey a metaphor? Perhaps. But however you want to put it, I think Hillary Clinton gave a much better speech Thursday night than I've seen her give over the past year of campaigning.

I can't precisely put my finger on why. Her delivery was much better than usual -- that's likely the biggest reason. For once, she did not sound tense or awkward or choppy. Instead, she sounded poised and flowing and relaxed. She did not sound like a lawyer delivering a closing argument in front of a jury, she instead sounded like someone with a fire in the belly for the job she's attempting to win. Her big lines didn't sound forced, they sounded completely natural.

Maybe she was better coached for this speech than she has so far been. That could very well be true. Maybe it was the sheer size of the crowd and their adoring reaction. Hillary has been almost exclusively doing very small rallies throughout the primary season, so she hasn't previously had this kind of thundering response to her best lines. Maybe the campaign made a mistake in limiting the size of her audiences before now. Or maybe it's just because she has gotten so much practice speaking in public, due to the prolonged nature of the primary season itself. I have no idea what the real reason was, in other words -- perhaps she simply had a very good night.

But whatever the reasons and whatever the causes, Hillary Clinton gave a very good speech. The best speech I've ever seen her give, in fact. "The speech of her life" isn't really overstating it. She was that good, in my opinion. And that's coming from someone who voted for Bernie.

Hillary began her speech by giving her own shout-outs to her husband ("the man from Hope"), Barack Obama ("the man of hope"), Michelle Obama, and Joe Biden -- each of whom got a thunderous cheer from the crowd. Bernie Sanders was caught on camera appearing mighty glum when his shout-out happened, but I didn't actually see this until later. He did finally smile for the cameras, but it took a moment or two too long before he did so. This, mind you, was during a big "Ber-nie!" chant from the crowd in response to Hillary's name-drop. Hillary tried her mightiest to reach out to Bernie supporters, vowing: "Your cause is our cause." She praised the progress Bernie made on shaping the Democratic platform, stating: "We wrote it together, now let's go out and make it happen together."

Clinton then pivoted to differentiating herself and Democrats from the dark visions of Donald Trump and the Republicans. She started off by quoting Franklin Roosevelt's "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself" line, then declared: "We are not afraid" -- which alone was a stark contrast to the fearmongering so on display at the Republican convention. She went into a riff of the many things that America would not let Trump do ("We will not build a wall") and the crowd loved the whole "We will not..." rhythm. She called out Trump in a major way for his "I alone" statement, decrying the very concept of one man fixing every problem in America, ending with "We'll fix it together!" This was followed by one of the signature lines of the convention: "Love trumps hate." Gotta love that "trumps" in there, eh?

At this point, Hillary formally announced: "I accept your nomination" for the presidency. The crowd went berserk once again, and "HIL-LA-RY!" chants filled the arena. Clinton then played it humble, admitting that she's not as good at this speechifyin' thing as her husband, with a good line about her ideas of public service, and what she considers her strength: "The 'service' part always comes easier than the 'public' part." It was one good line among many during the evening.

This led to the first of two slow parts in her speech, though. She quickly ran through a few high points of her bio here, and it felt like too much icing on this particular cake. We had already had plenty of bio stuff from others (including that Morgan Freeman video), and it just dragged on a bit. Like Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders (but, astonishingly, not like her husband), it seemed as though 10 to 15 minutes of Hillary's speech really should have wound up on the cutting room floor. I mean, she is the first woman nominee of a major party, so she's allowed to get in lines like: "When there are no more ceilings, the sky's the limit," but stylistically it did tend to slow the cadence of the whole speech down a bit.

After this first slowdown, Hillary really began hitting her stride. She gave a big nod to the Obama/Biden legacy, she reminded everyone about the importance of the next Supreme Court picks, and she got an absolute tsunami of cheering for announcing that she'd get rid of the Citizens United ruling one way or another -- even if it meant amending the Constitution. Everyone -- Hillary supporters and Bernie supporters alike -- thought that was an absolute dandy idea, to put it mildly. She cracked a joke or two at Trump's expense ("Trump spoke for 70-odd minutes... and I do mean odd...") and even played the woman card again, to audience chants of: "Deal me in!"

Hillary made one mistake during her speech -- one unforced error that I'm surprised that nobody removed during vetting beforehand, and equally surprised that nobody else in the punditocracy seems to have picked up on. She tried to channel Bernie Sanders and spoke of the 90 percent of the wealth going to the already-wealthy, promising that she'd make them pay their fair share of taxes. But in the midst of it was a curious (and uncited) quote: "that's where the money is." This was, famously, the response a bank robber from the 1920s and 1930s supposedly gave to a newspaper reporter who asked him why he robbed banks. The bank robber in question was Willie Sutton, who claimed later in life never to have actually said the line -- he claimed the reporter had made it up out of whole cloth, in fact. Now, this was a mistake some speechwriter made in Hillary's speech for two big reasons, either one of which could be easily exploited in a Republican attack ad. The first is that Hillary is essentially comparing the I.R.S. to a bank robber -- something the right already mostly believes. The second reason this is a mistake is cringeworthy: Sutton had the same nickname Hillary's husband wore in the 1990s: "Slick Willie." I mean, whenever possible, you're supposed to not hand such easy openings to your opponent in politics. Sheesh.

The rest of her speech had its high points, and certainly provoked many more "HIL-LA-RY!" chants from the crowd. There was Trump-bashing on a number of foreign policy subjects, many very effective lines, but it really began to drag at some point. As always, this could be because of my own physical exhaustion on this last night of the convention -- perhaps others didn't feel this fatigue and it was purely subjective. But I really felt the last segment of the speech could have been boiled down to a few punchy paragraphs rather than taking up the last 10 minutes or so. It kind of trickled to an end rather than built to much of a crescendo.

Still, overall, it was the best speech -- and the best delivery of a speech -- I have ever seen Clinton give. Even when meandering a bit at the end, it never got awkward. Hillary never sounded lawyerly. She never sounded like she was lecturing you on why eating your vegetables is necessary. She sounded -- and you can take this however you want -- like a very practiced politician working a huge crowd in expert fashion. Cynics will see this differently than viewers at home, of course, but I thought Hillary's speech was a big hit -- as I said earlier, if not out of the park then at least a solid triple.

Closing Thoughts

As I said, I'll have more to say about the final nights of the convention later, but I did want to conclude this extra-long article with a bit of subjectivity. I am going to arbitrarily rate the primetime speakers for the whole convention, just to let everyone know what I thought of them. I'm even ignoring a few primetime appearances I considered rather minor (Madeleine Albright) and I'm also including one speech that didn't take place within primetime but really should have, because it was that good (Joe Biden). Here, in order, is my ranking of the best speeches of the Democratic National Convention:

  1. Michelle Obama -- nothing topped her first-night speech. It truly was that good.

  • Joe Biden -- a close second to Michelle, and he didn't even speak in primetime.
  • Hillary Clinton -- best speech I've ever heard her give, bar none.
  • Bernie Sanders -- this speech was the highpoint of his impressive campaign.
  • Bill Clinton -- kind of an off night for Bill, but that's still better than most politicians can manage on their best day.
  • Tim Kaine -- much better than anyone expected.
  • Elizabeth Warren -- I love Warren, but she had an off night.
  • Chelsea Clinton -- Humanizing, but kind of weak all around.
  • OK, that's it for my primetime convention speech coverage. I've still got a lot more material to get through, including an in-depth look at the final two days (outside of the primetime events) and some photographs I'm likely going to run in a separate column, so keep checking my site for the next few days, unless you're already sick of hearing about the Democratic National Convention. But then, if that were true, would you really have read all the way to the end of this?

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