Rhetoric and mastery: Bill Clinton at the DNC

I’ve heard Clinton speak before (and was impressed by him) but this was a truly masterful effort. It reminded me of Aristotle’s identification of the three elements of rhetoric: what is said; who is saying it; and the occasion on which it is being said. Clinton’s speech worked on all three levels.

Or, as Dave Winer (who was there) put it:

No doubt Bill Clinton knows how to get people to work for him, he was good enough to get elected President twice, and over the years his skill has matured. But I didn’t expect the tour de force I saw last night. It was the best political speech I’ve ever seen, he hit all the points, his gestures, his timing, his facial expressions were artfully perfect. There was something for everyone, and despite what the Republicans are saying, he charmed everyone in the hall, and probably most of the people watching on TV. If you didn’t see the speech, you owe it to yourself to seek it out on the Democrats website. In the realm of politics this was a Sistine Chapel, a Mona Lisa, a Statue of Liberty.

There were so many good lines, but the one that made me laugh the loudest was when the crowd quieted down afterr chanting Yes We Can, Yes We Can, Clinton paused and began his next paragraph as if it all had been scripted (maybe it was) Yes He Can, and then talked about Obama and what a great President he will be. Everyone was happy to hear him praise the younger Future President, such graciousness begets much love in return, the way he did it, it sort of chokes you up. (Makes you wonder what the convention would have been like if Hillary had won.)

For me, the best line was when he said (with an elegance of phrase that reminded me of JFK), “People the world over have always been more impressed by the power of our example than by the example of our power.”

Dave Winer concluded:

So Bill Clinton now occupies a position that no one else has occupied in the age of television and the Internet, the powerfully charming super-statesman, two-term ex-president, still young, unlike Reagan, with many years to go before retiring. A far cry from the lout who campaigned so aggressively and unfairly, and reminded us that lurking inside that statesman’s body is a child who, when he loses control, can be very dangerous to himself and the rest of us.

Right on.

What’s been amazing about this presidential election is the amount of raw energy it reveals in the American system. I cannot imagine a single British politican capable of engaging at this level with ideas and passion. And it makes one depressed to think of what lies in store for us over here as the political conference season approaches.