I hate to admit this but I love Bill Clinton. I think he is the best theater American politics has to offer. Only the law could prevent him from being elected president again this year if he wanted to run.
Heck, I even voted for him once. That was after James Brown was accused of domestic violence, which meant I couldn't write him in yet again.
In retrospect I was happier with my votes for James Brown. I always said a man who will lie to his wife -- and an affair is nothing but a lie -- will lie even easier to the country. But his presidency had some moments that look a lot better to me now than they did then. We got through his presidency without being engaged in a shooting war of any magnitude. That's saying something if you think about all the presidencies since Ronald Reagan.
And, from this perspective, his balanced budgets seem almost Herculean.
But his speech last night was just pretty damned good. His technique was nearly flawless. The language might have been more salty over a pile of ribs, but it wouldn't have been more warm, more homespun, more friendly. That is part of his charm. When he asks: "Now, why do I think that?" then he delivers the answer, he reminds me of an old boy at the local bar holding forth with whoever will listen. It is hard to hate that guy, even if sometimes you feel sorry for him because you know he's been there all afternoon and you know he's going home alone.
Bill -- I'm sure he wouldn't mind if I called him 'Bill' -- demonstrated a Rooseveltian ability to simplify complex issues without appearing to condescend. This is a gift of great magnitude. Roosevelt said something like, "Now let me talk about banking..." in his radio addresses in the same way, almost the same tone of voice, that Bill Clinton asks, "Now, why do I think that?"
My favorite device was this: "I know you're laughing now but you won't be laughing when I tell you this." Or, "Now listen to this because it is important." Who can tune out a man who implores you with such language?
And, of course, the line about vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan's "brass" was beautiful. "It takes a lot of brass to criticize a man for doing what you did." Man, that line had everything and it had several meanings. It was just slightly obscene, just skirting the edge, which is a dangerous key to Willie's charm. It had the ring of truth, if not the precision. It reduced the other side to just a couple of other good old boys who had maybe been talking too big a game for their britches. And it was personal, dontchaknow. How many Republican congressmen was he speaking to with that phrase. It takes a lot of brass to go after me for doing the same thing "with that woman" that youall have been doing in the sanctity of your offices all along.
Nobody in American politics has Bill Clinton's brass. The beating he took in the media over his sexual stupidity was huge. But you can kick him in the brass 'til the cows come home and he always seems to smile and go on. That's just who he is.
And, charm? Well, the salacious side of that comment is a perfect example of why women just seem to melt in his presence. He's still got the juice. Just below the surface, just somewhere inside that grin, you can see a boy with a red convertible parked on the asphalt behind the junior high, heat lightning on the horizon, and your virtue in grave danger. Women with PhD's and lot of savvy tell their husbands they'd never go for him, but betray their true feelings with the way their voices get all girlish when they say the words.
Ok, so what happens when he addresses the Democrat National Convention? Same thing. Red convertible. Probably a 65 Mustang. Big ocean of asphalt out behind the junior high. Rock 'n roll playing softly on the am radio. Heat lightning over the trees to the west. The seduction is irresistible.
Unless, of course, you're a died-in-the-wool Republican. But, by then, you'd no doubt turned off the telly and gone to bed. I mean, you know, you've got to be up early in the morning.