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Letter From The Editor

Bill Clinton seduces the Democratic convention.

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Even a week later, people are still talking about former President Bill Clinton's speech at the Democratic National Convention. It was, as Jackson Baker termed it, a real "stemwinder" — 50 minutes of oratory, approximately 25 minutes of it unscripted. It was a brutal point-by-point takedown of GOP talking points — including the canard that President Obama had "gutted the work requirement" for welfare recipients.

"This is personal to me," Clinton said, reminding the audience and the nation that it was Clinton himself who signed the original welfare reform bill in 1996. "They say they won't let their campaign be run by fact-checkers," Clinton added. "There's a reason for that."

Clinton praised Eisenhower and Reagan — and even got the DNC crowd to applaud George Bush — praising the GOP presidents for their willingness to cooperate across the aisle to get legislation passed and drawing a stark contrast to the intransigence of the current Republican leadership.

Clinton pulled out all his folksy rhetorical tricks ("Now I want you to hear this ... "; "This is important, you need to listen ... "), punctuating them with his patented gestures: heavenward finger-pointing, inverted jazz hands, and, at least once, his famous (I feel your pain) lower-lip bite. It was compelling television for American political junkies of any stripe and manna from heaven for Democrats and for television reporters and anchors seeking compelling television.

And, oh, how they swooned. CNN's Piers Morgan said Clinton was an "oratorical genius, up there with Churchill, Kennedy, MLK, and Mandela." CBS' Bob Schieffer and ABC's Diane Sawyer called it "amazing." And GOP pundit Alex Castellanos said it was probably "the moment that re-elected Obama."

It was Skynyrd playing "Free Bird"; Grant Wood painting American Gothic; Fitzgerald penning The Great Gatsby — an American tour de force. The Democrats should be thanking the stars they've got Bill Clinton on their side.

It almost made me feel sorry for the Republicans, whose convention had no comparable spear-carrier, no rhetorical star, unless you count Clint Eastwood. But an old white guy dissing a scary, imaginary black man probably isn't going to do much to move swing voters. If only the GOP had a recent former president on hand, someone who could articulate the beauty of trickle-down economics, infinite tax cuts, ballooning deficits, and huge government bailouts.

If only there were such a man ...

Bruce VanWyngarden
brucev@memphisflyer.com

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