Will Bill Clinton Set DNC House on Fire -- In a Good way?
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Before 10 p.m. on Tuesday, the opening day of the Democratic National Convention, I was hearing a lot of grumbling. It rained. And rained. Tempers were getting short. Tepid policy discussions followed long lines to hear speakers who seemed to speak only one language: platitude-ese. But as the evening wore on, something shifted in anticipation of First Lady Michelle Obama's speech. That something finally exploded into cheers and hollers as she took to the stage at 10:30 p.m., looking stunning in a pink-and-grey Tracy Reese number.
The first lady struck a distinctly populist chord in her speech, reminding listeners than she and her husband have known what it's like to struggle to pay off debt and, in her husband's case, afford a nice pair of shoes of the correct size to wear on a date. That message, drawing sharp contrast to the gold-plated Romneys, was appreciated in a state where the poverty rate and umemployment numbers are worse than the national average. Fully connected to the crowd, Michelle Obama had to pause a time or two for standing ovations and extended cheers. Reporters dropped their cynical expressisons. Some people cried. Suddenly, the lights had come on in Charlotte.
Meanwhile, word began to spread that Bubbah was in the house -- meaning Bill Clinton was in Charlotte and was preparing a speech that insiders say will "set the house on fire." Rumor has it that Vice President Joe Biden was forced to give up a more plum speaking slot to Clinton, who will likely appear late this evening in the Time Warner Arena. That Bill Clinton is well-loved in these parts is just part of the culture by now. He knows how to talk to southerners, and at a time when national liberals often behave as if the South is a foreign country (and some wish fervently that it was!), Clinton's regional appeal means a lot.
North Carolina is still in play, despite the fact that many have written it off, and Clinton's popularity in the black community in the state is well-known. African Americans in Charlotte have been coming out in droves to support President Obama during the convention, but some that I spoke to expressed a wish that Obama was a little less distant. Aloofness has never been Bubbah's problem, and I fully expect that he will bring his A-game Wednesday night. It's hard to forget the role Clinton played in the deregulation trend that unleashed destructive forces on Wall Street -- particularly in this banking town -- or his off-base remarks on Romney's "stellar" biz career. But Bubbah's charm is a force unto itself, and if anyone can whip up the crowd in Charlotte, he's the man.