The words, when they came, had lost no power over a week of build-up, or almost a decade of rehearsal. “So it is with humility, determination and boundless confidence in America’s promise that I accept your nomination for president of the United States,” said Hillary Clinton – the first American to stand on the brink of being called madame president.
There were no gimmicks. No more videos of breaking glass. Just a familiar face in a trademark white suit, standing in a very unfamiliar spot.
“When there are no ceilings, the sky’s the limit,” she acknowledged briefly, before, eventually, the ceiling seemed to fall in, covering the floor of Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo arena in a carpet of red, white and blue balloons so thick, the candidate almost disappeared from view.
By the end of an hour-long acceptance speech, there were children on stage; some of them, daughters smuggled in by fathers to witness an undoubted leap forward along the long road to equality in America.
Clinton herself dwelled little on the symbolism of her acceptance speech – save for a cry of ‘Deal me in!” which was taken up lustily by the crowd. Instead, she went straight to her first big exposition of what she would do if she actually wins in November, including a jobs program and investment in infrastructure.
“To drive real progress, you have to change both hearts and laws,” she said, in clear contrast to the idealistic promises of her primary opponent Bernie Sanders and the big-talking Republican enemy Donald Trump.
The US, Clinton said, was “at a moment of reckoning” as she called on voters to reject Trump’s divisive rhetoric and policies. “Powerful forces are threatening to pull us apart, bonds of trust and respect are fraying,” she said.
But it was also a moment to turn slowly away from Barack Obama, a man who only yesterday had helped the campaign reclaim the mantle of patriotism from Trump. Now it was time for Clinton to do the same with the economy.
“Democrats, we are the party of working people but we haven’t done a good enough job showing that we get what you’re going through, and that we’re going to do something about it,” she said.
“There’s a lot to do,” acknowledged Clinton, a departure from the campaign’s recent insistence that Trump was exaggerating the pain felt by working families. “Too many people haven’t had a pay raise since the crash.”
She added: “Some of you are frustrated – even furious. And you know what? You’re right.”
To the confusion of a diehard band of Bernie Sanders supporters in luminous T-shirts, who sought to disrupt the speech, they were forced instead to pause and, even once or twice, applaud when Clinton presented an unashamedly liberal and populist vision of America.
“If you believe that we should say ‘no’ to unfair trade deals, that we should stand up to China, that we should support our steelworkers and autoworkers and homegrown manufacturers – join us,” said Clinton, in clear appeal to both right and left incarnations of the pitchfork outbreak sweeping the country in this election cycle.
“Whatever party you belong to, or if you belong to no party at all, if you share these beliefs, this is your campaign,” she added, promising she would be a president for all Americans, whether they voted for her or not.
But taking Trump’s appeal seriously was not the same as taking Trump seriously.
An increasingly confident Clinton was merciless in skewering the celebrity billionaire as a “little man”.
“Really? I alone can fix it?” she asked at one point, letting the questions hang there as a description of everything that is absurd about this close-fought election race.
“He spoke for 70-odd minutes – and I do mean odd,” she continued, eliciting the kind of laughter that was bound to produce a tweetstorm of umbrage from the man himself, and did.
“Imagine him, if you dare, imagine him in the Oval Office facing a real crisis. A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons,” anticipated Clinton.
He might be a joke, she said, but his appeal was not. “For the past year, many people made the mistake of laughing off Donald Trump’s comments – excusing him as an entertainer just putting on a show,” warned the former secretary of state. “Here’s the sad truth: there is no other Donald Trump. This is it.”
The laughs came naturally for a crowd that warmed to a rare display of comic timing from Clinton: “Donald Trump says he wants to make America great again – well, he could start by actually making things in America again.”
There was a little shake of the head as if to say “duh” when she said: “I believe in science”, and rejected the denial of climate change in another year of temperature records smashed.
She turned to another first lady, Jackie Kennedy, for the insult that may yet stick. “She said that what worried President Kennedy during that very dangerous time was that a war might be started – not by big men with self-control and restraint, but by little men, the ones moved by fear and pride.”
Over the course of the evening, Trump was called many names. “A political pyromaniac”, said Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti, who suggested Trump should build his wall around the whole city.
“Hillary Clinton knows how to fight back against dangerous, loudmouth bullies … She doesn’t run to Twitter to give people badmouth nicknames,” said Elizabeth Warren, who had been on the receiving end.
Some of Clinton’s own putdowns would end another campaign overnight. But this is a teflon Don, seemingly able to say anything without consequence, so Clinton refused the temptation to indulge in excessive Trump-bashing, preferring to paint her own vision.
There was plenty of policy: a bold promise to introduce the biggest jobs program since the second world war in her first 100 days as president, and invest money in infrastructure projects and political capital in gun control.
Rejecting the dangerously persistent notion that she simply wanted to be president because it was her turn, Clinton also used much of the packed speech to describe her real motivation.
Introduced by her daughter, Chelsea, she continued the week’s highly personal theme, by pinning this political philosophy on her own mother, Dorothy.
“She made sure I learned the words of our Methodist faith,” said the nominee. “Do all the good you can, for all the people you can, in all the ways you can, as long as ever you can.”
The moral vision continued to help defuse the still simmering revolt on the left, where a rump of Sanders supporters were largely drowned out in their attempt to disrupt the night.
“I want to thank Bernie Sanders,” said Clinton. “Bernie, your campaign inspired millions of Americans, particularly the young people who threw their hearts and souls into our primary.”
Mostly she ignored disruptions that were more noticeable in the hall than on television.
By the end, the chants were no longer papering over the cracks in the party, but rolling expressions of real enthusiasm waving up and down the stadium.
The crowd had been fired up earlier in the evening by another speech that could easily have been at home in a Sanders rally. “We are being called upon by our foremothers and fathers to be the moral defibrillator,” said Rev William Barber. “We cannot give up on the heart of democracy, not now, not ever … We need to fight for the heart of this nation.”
But it was the calm nobility of Khizr Khan, whose son died serving the US military in Iraq, who summed up why Clinton was really running – accusing Trump of “smearing the character” of patriotic American Muslims.
“Donald Trump, let me ask you: have you even read the US constitution? I will gladly lend you my copy. Look for the words ‘liberty’ and ‘equal protection under the law’,” said Khan.
Instead, Clinton made clear she would be a “president for Democrats, Republicans, and independents”.
“For the struggling, the striving, the successful. For those who vote for me and those who don’t. Whatever party you belong to, or if you belong to no party at all, if you share these beliefs, this is your campaign. For all Americans,” she said.
Appealing to those Reagan Democrats of a different age, Clinton said of Trump: “He’s taken the Republican party a long way – from ‘Morning in America’ to ‘Midnight in America’.
“He wants us to fear the future and fear each other. Well, a great Democratic president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, came up with the perfect rebuke to Trump more than 80 years ago, during a much more perilous time: ‘The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.’”
Source: The Guardian