Just One More Thing…
I don’t particularly care for Bill Clinton.
And I’m not talking about taking some sort of Monica Lewinsky-inspired cheap shot, of the sort that Fox News analysts trotted out last night in the guise of analysis.
No, when I think about his campaigns and his presidency, I think of his utter failure with regard to the Rwandan genocide. And about 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. And Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. And the execution of Ricky Ray Rector.
This isn’t exactly highlight reel material and Clinton knows it … at least when it comes to some of these things. And so I’m a little put off by the hagiography of Clinton that I’ve seen all over the internet for the past days. It’s particularly tiresome because it paints Clinton as some sort of savior when in reality his presidency ran into many of the same kinds of critiques from progressives that are leveled against President Obama today.
But, as I discussed with my students at the beginning of class today, none of that really impacts my ability to recognize that his speech last night was masterful. As someone who cares about making arguments — and who is committed to teaching my students about how to judge whether or not they are clear and compelling — I have to recognize one of the best examples of political argumentation I’ve heard when I hear it.
It doesn’t hurt, of course, that the argument he made was one that buttresses a) many of the policies I support and b) a vision of a political community I endorse. But it’s noteworthy that many of the conservatives with whom I regularly interact online also recognized the fine quality of Clinton’s speech as it was happening. And I feel pretty confident that I could applaud a well-constructed argument by a conservative politician if I heard one.
Of course, all of the above is also why I hoped — rightly, it turned out — that live-tweeting the Fox “analysis” of the speech last night would be comedy gold. That network is firmly committed to the idea that Clinton couldn’t possible have given a powerful or effective speech, and so it was no surprise that they offered a series of lame critiques of a speech that millions and millions of people recognized as both entertaining and compelling. And, of course, it’s not a huge surprise that the Fox-News-ification of the Republican party has many thoughtful conservatives feeling pretty despondent.