Clinton/Obama at the DNC: A Contrast in Styles

You know the old line about how politicians campaign in poetry and govern in prose? Two of the more adept practitioners of the poetry part each had their moment at the Democratic National Convention, offering an intriguing contrast in styles.

Mostly, Bill Clinton‘s nominating speech Wednesday benefited from not having to hit the emotional notes that President Barack Obama did in his acceptance on Thursday.

For Clinton, playing the role of elder statesman is clearly liberating. He never looks happier than when he’s holding forth in such a setting, reveling in wonky breakdowns of dense policy matters. As such, he deftly stuck a shiv into the Republican ticket, while throwing around so many references to billions and trillions as to sound like the late Carl Sagan.

Obama, on the other hand, faced a more difficult challenge — taking jabs at the GOP, while trying to stay presidential. Moreover, he seemed to be channeling Ronald Reagan in calling forth so many heart-warming anecdotal examples of America’s can-do spirit, to the point where it was tempting to yell “OK, we’re swell, I get it!” (As I noted previously, rival Mitt Romney also appeared to be emulating Reagan, but more in terms of mannerisms and style than content.)

Having written earlier about the “optics” of Romney’s speech, I’d be remiss in not pointing out the effect of seeing Obama with his wife Michelle and daughters, Sasha and Malia, which felt extremely humanizing, given the nature of the attacks frequently leveled against him. The first couple has to their credit mostly kept the girls out of the spotlight, but seeing how they’ve grown up during his time in office plays well to what the media politely like to call “low-information voters.”

Disagree with Obama’s policies? Sure, fine, plenty of room for that. Trying to paint him as a socialist out to destroy the American way of life? With those two adorable kids he’ll be giving six-figure speeches to help support, either in a few months or four years? Aw, come on.

Boxing pundits like to speculate about pairing up fighters from different eras. Seeing Clinton juxtaposed with Obama created that opportunity for political yakkers.

After watching both, Obama’s certainly smooth enough, but Clinton feels like the heavyweight.


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