Well, in the wine room of Hooligan’s, a convivial place of sofas and turned wood and merlot in one of the few small brick laneways left in Charlotte, the consensus was that Bill nailed it. Your correspondent had been thrown out of the Politico party, a well-lit place of hundreds of hacks and wonks, and champagne on beds of ice in real bath tubs.
I’d coat-tailed in by starting a furious conversation with a Philly organiser who looked like Biggie Smalls in a Target suit, five foot by five foot, the back of his neck like a roll-top desk. He had no problem with me trying on the fake roadie shuffle: “But look, the mainline protestant vote in the fourth will counteract the gender imbalance”; “no my brother, you are looking at this the wrong way …”
That got me past the anncoulterorexic door bitch and the somewhat lax security guard doing bag check. I could have got anything in, stabbed Grover Norquist, except he’d probably enjoy it. But then the steely-eyed DB went round the room looking for folks and we were turfed.
“You can come back tomorrow if you leave tonight.”
“You don’t understand — I’m from the alternative media centre.”
“Those credentials don’t cover here.”
“No, I mean, it’s shit boring. Even Amy Goodman’s bailed.”
“I’m really sorry,” she said.
The alt press centre had homemade cookies, a Nebraska beer and Spanish hacktivists interviewing each other. I tried to make it to the arena, realised I wasn’t going to get there, and lammed in on the crowd at Hooligan’s. There was a football game on in the other bar, and a sporadic cheer at odd points — that is, at any point during Elizabeth Warren’s speech preceding the headline act, which will not go down in history as anything much, and suggested why the Massachussetts Senate vacancy is being lost to a Republican.
To be fair it wasn’t meant to be much, acting as a softener before Big Bill, and as an insulator between himself and Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown student who testified about the denial of birth control on student health insurance earlier in the year, and was labelled a “slut” and much worse by Rush Limbaugh and others. Fluke in her first outing had looked like the grad student she was, with a half-finished Masters on Gertrude Stein, and a JDate premium membership. Now man she was glam, a flapper goddess in an alluring necklace and an Amelia Earhart ravenswing ‘do.
She wove a sort of figure eight/Mobius strip structure speech in which she said that any of you could have been up here, because anyone can speak out, but I did and you’ve invited me, and so I am speaking for us all, and now we will have a country where our president either has our back or turns his back … and ended on: “We talk often about choice. Well, ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to choose.” And on the last word she turned on her heel and left the podium. It was a phenomenal speech, and would have been the talk of any other night, but here it will have to serve as warm-up.
Hooligan’s was a party of about a dozen Democrats, professionals, shading from hip lawyer to hipster, via a Zooey Deschanalike, like the casting call for an SUV ad. They were drinking red, socialist wine, and they were by no means in the tank for their own party, or its leaders. Indeed, as Bubba got into his stride, they were a little annoying.
But for this participant observer, Bill Clinton hit the ground running, and then took off into space, from the starting moment:
“I want to nominate a man who’s cool on the outside … [applause] … but who burns for America on the inside.”
Then he went from some general Republican slamming into what we all wanted, the Clinton wonk-y goodness:
“We Democrats, we think the country works better with a strong middle class, with real opportunities for poor folks to work their way into it, with a relentless focus on the future, with business and government actually working together to promote growth and broadly shared prosperity. [You see, ‘we believe that, we’re all in this together’ is a far better philosophy than ‘you’re on your own’. Applause.]
“So who’s right? Well, since 1961, for 52 years now, the Republicans have held the White House 28 years, the Democrats 24. In those 52 years, our private economy has produced 66 million private-sector jobs. So what’s the job score? Republicans: 24 million; Democrats: 42.”
The bar loved that. “Bazinga!” The Malbec flowed.
Clinton’s in his mid-60s now, lean after heart surgery, the face a little harder, and he had, as numerous commentators would remark, the demeanour of a lawyer, demolishing the Republican case piece by piece. Though still behind the podium, he looked like he was pacing the length of the jury box. He was Clarence Darrow, he was Atticus Finch, he was Jack McCoy. He spoke of a Republican Party which no longer returned respect across the aisle, which he had always extended. He dispelled the idea that Obama wasn’t willing to work collaboratively, enumerating the bipartisan — too many of them — initiatives, and then:
“They want to cut taxes for high-income Americans even more than President Bush did. They want to get rid of those pesky financial regulations designed to prevent another crash and prohibit federal bailouts. They want to actually increase defense spending over a decade $2 trillion more than the Pentagon has requested, without saying what they’ll spend it on. And they want to make enormous cuts in the rest of budget, especially programs that help the middle class and poor children … [pause] … as another president once said, there they go again.”
That hat tip to Reagan really got the house. Then there was 25 minutes of analysing and eviscerating the GOP arguments on health care, Medicare, the auto bailout, the economy, military spending. It didn’t leave a stick or stone standing. Halfway through, the Hooligans’ crowd were getting so relaxed they were pointing out where he was being tendentious — “that’s double counting,” they yelled at one figure; “you didn’t nail that, you didn’t mention vets”. But they were enjoying it. He had it in hand, and you could enjoy the ride.
So could Clinton. Democratic spin-doctors all over the country will use the speech as a cell-line for talking points to hit the GOP again and again. Especially as he combined analysis with zingers:
“Now, when Congressman Ryan looked into that TV camera and attacked President Obama’s Medicare savings as, quote, ‘the biggest, coldest power play’, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry … [they laughed] … because that $716 billion is exactly to the dollar the same amount of Medicare savings that he has in his own budget!”
“You got to give one thing: it takes some brass to attack a guy for doing what you did.
“[Their numbers don’t add up]. What new ideas did we bring to Washington? I always give a one-word answer: arithmetic.
“You don’t bet on someone who’s doubled-down on trickledown.”
So on and on. Pure pleasure. Ended with a little exceptionalism, but even that was done with style:
“People have predicted our demise ever since George Washington was criticised for being a mediocre surveyor with a bad set of wooden, false teeth. And so far every single person that’s bet against America has lost money, because we always come back.
“We’ve come through every fire a little stronger and a little better. And we do it because, in the end, we decide to champion the cause for which our founders pledged their lives, their fortunes, their sacred honor, the cause of forming a more perfect union.”
“My fellow Americans, if that is what you want, if that is what you believe, you must vote and you must re-elect President Barack Obama.”
“God bless you. And God bless America.”
Lucky bastards, there is so much in the myth kitty to reach to. Christ it was good, and it repays a full viewing. Then Obama came out from the wings, and it was all perfectly staged.
So tomorrow Obama. The debates to come. With Barack, Michelle, Bill and Hillary fanning out in force. Alex Miller, the key Republican pundit on CNN, said the convention was over — Clinton had already won re-election for Obama. Maybe, maybe not. But I’m glad I was at Hooligan’s, not Politico, to see it.
“Why do you think you’re losing North Carolina,” I asked one of them, over a piquant cabernet shiraz. “I think we’ll win. The debates are still to come.” Everyone nodded. “One final question,” I said leaving: “How many of you will be campaigning?” Everyone stared into their shiraz.
Maybe, maybe not. Tomorrow, in the bars and rooms of the nation, it is all to win.