The second night of the Democratic National Convention prior to Sen. Hillary Clinton's speech was nearly as unmemorable as day one. And an interesting pattern has emerged in all of the main speakers' remarks. Barack Obama is an accessory, an add-on, a superfluous reference tucked in on the end of a litany of the speaker's accomplishments and beliefs. There is almost no discussion of the nominee as a man separate and distinct from the speaker. Rather, he is a concept, an ethereal being, an abstraction. It is almost as if the speakers are deliberately trying to distance themselves from Obama, at his own convention.
Hillary Clinton was the star of the evening in a big way. So much so that she appears to have taken the convention by force, and will hold it for at least one more day.Sen. Robert Casey of Pennsylvania got things started with a thoroughgoing and dull speech in which he mostly talked about his father. Casey gets credit for mentioning his disagreement with Obama on abortion; and he at least tried to rile up the crowd with some decent attacks on the Bush Administration and John McCain. But the crowd wasn't entirely into it. They were anticipating greater things to come. Two hours in, David Gergen was once again on CNN, lamenting the lack of anything memorable happening in Denver.
Former Virginia Governor and likely its next Senator Mark Warner was the keynoter and he was dreadfully awful. It is actually hard to put into words just how bad, boring, and trivial his speech was. Warner must think he is a Senator already as his speech was full of incredible nothingness. He prattled on about how this was an election about th future, which he said is more important than a presidential election. He talked about his tenure as governor, praised his management of the state, bragged on his success in business, and just for good measure tossed in an Obama every couple of paragraphs or so. There was no energy in the arena during his address. Many view Warner as the 2012 front runner in the event of an Obama loss in November. Viewed in that light, this speech was his 2012 concession.
With Warner finished, anticipation in the hall began to grow for Sen. Clinton, the real headliner of the night. Before she took the stage, however, there was a speech from Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, who demonstrated completely why she is not Barack Obama's running mate. There was also a surprise keynote from Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer. His was an energy packed speech about energy policy. He was animated, connected with the crowd, and genuinely fun to watch. It was not the keynote listed in the schedule, but it was far and above a better one that Warner managed to deliver.
Then it was Hillary's turn. Clinton delivered a real stemwinder of an address, recounting her primary campaign, and pointedly not conceding. She delivered the requisite declarations of support for Sen. Obama. But in a twenty minute plus speech, Clinton only managed to mention him by name 10 times. Like the rest of the speakers, the mentions of Obama came not in the context of anything he would actually do as president, but in a "him too" kind of way. The typical formulation can be seen in this passage from the prepared text.
I ran for President to renew the promise of America. To rebuild the middle class and sustain the American Dream, to provide the opportunity to work hard and have that work rewarded, to save for college, a home and retirement, to afford the gas and groceries and still have a little left over each month...Most of all, I ran to stand up for all those who have been invisible to their government for eight long years.Those are the reasons I ran for President. Those are the reasons I support Barack Obama. And those are the reasons you should too.
Except that when she delivered it, she left out the last line. Sen. Clinton's speech was about her campaign, not the coming one. When it was over, Bill Kristol called it a "shockingly minimal endorsement of Barack Obama."
Barack Obama has no presence at this convention. He is not physically there, and he is not oft discussed. His name is used like a drug to placate the seething masses of delegates, administered in small enough doses to keep them wanting for more. But it never comes. Clinton stepped into this atmosphere, and took over. The convention is now about her. She is who everyone is talking about; and she will continue to be the topic after tomorrow night, with the roll call of the states and former President Bill Clinton's speech. Tonight, Clinton laid down a marker on 2012 and a gauntlet for Thursday night, when Obama will have to equal her performance. He had better be good or he will leave Denver with the nomination, but without the mantle of leader of the Democratic Party.
Cross posted at Mark on the Right.