I’ve never known for sure exactly where the cliché started, though it’s often attributed to “The West Wing.” Faced with a serious challenge, the solution on the television show was to “let Bartlett be Bartlett.” The results tended to be more effective when the president was encouraged to just be himself.
I thought about the phrase watching Hillary Clinton accept the Democratic nomination last night, because it’s likely she and her team received all kinds of advice about that speech. She was no doubt given an endless stream of tips about what to say and how to say it, but in the end, the candidate and the campaign decided to “let Hillary Clinton be Hillary Clinton.”
And it worked like a charm.
It’s no secret that Clinton prefers prose to poetry, and she’ll never be hailed as a legendary orator, so last night was partly about turning a perceived negative into a positive. Consider:
“It’s true, I sweat the details of policy – whether we’re talking about the exact level of lead in the drinking water in Flint, Michigan, the number of mental health facilities in Iowa, or the cost of your prescription drugs. Because it’s not just a detail if it’s your kid, if it’s your family.“It’s a big deal. And it should be a big deal to your president.”
Later in her remarks, she noted that in Donald Trump’s convention speech, the Republican nominee “offered zero solutions.” Clinton added, “[H]e doesn’t like talking about his plans. You might have noticed, I love talking about mine.”
Clinton was pitching a substantive, solutions-oriented candidacy. Trump may want to revel in post-policy bliss, rejecting wonky details as annoyances to be avoided, but Clinton reminded the nation last night that she actually cares about policy minutiae – which is something voters should feel good about.
Because by the time the balloons dropped, one thing couldn’t have been much clearer: in practically every way that matters, Hillary Clinton, the first woman to ever lead a major-party presidential ticket, is the anti-Trump.
Trump offered fear, so Clinton explicitly rejected it. Trump said the country is coming unglued, so Clinton pitched a message of unity, cooperation, and the importance of being “stronger together.” Trump embraced empty slogans and sound-bite solutions, so Clinton emphasized expertise and qualifications.
Trump envisions a smaller, more narrow political party, so Clinton tried to expand the Democrats’ reach.
“I will be a president for Democrats, Republicans, and Independents,” she said. “For the struggling, the striving and the successful. For those who vote for me and those who don’t. For all Americans.” She added soon after, “Whatever party you belong to, or if you belong to no party at all, if you share these beliefs, this is your campaign.”
Trump is intemperate and thin-skinned, prone to lashing out in response to perceived slights, so Clinton reminded the public about the importance of a steady hand.
“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.“I can’t put it any better than Jackie Kennedy did after the Cuban Missile Crisis. 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.“America’s strength doesn’t come from lashing out. Strength relies on smarts, judgment, cool resolve, and the precise and strategic application of power. That’s the kind of Commander-in-Chief I pledge to be.”
Such a message carries risks. Fear is easy. Distrusting those who don’t look like you, or talk like you, or worship like you brings comfort to some. Celebrity and bombast strikes many as inherently exciting and interesting.
Clinton, however, believes Americans want more. In 101 days, we’ll see if she’s right.