Editorial: Democrats make compelling show of passion, poise, but still have some convincing to do
The contrast between the Republican National Convention last week and the Democratic National Convention this week could not be more striking -- and not merely for the fact, as Democratic Illinois Senate President John Cullerton said on WTTW's "Chicago Tonight" Wednesday, that one didn't have to Google the names of the speakers this week to know who they were.
The Democrats managed to contain the early threat of their Bernie Sanders problem and forge an event whose message was unified, clear and consistent -- in a word familiar for this party, hope. It was a message punctuated by the party standard bearer herself in a stirring speech built on detailed review of her party's ambitions.
Throughout the convention, Democrats pointedly made distinctions between Hillary Clinton's record and Donald Trump's. In passionate addresses by speakers from first lady Michelle Obama to former President Bill Clinton and beyond, they pressed the case that, in the words of President Barack Obama himself, "there has never been a man or a woman more qualified" for president than Clinton. Speakers who have known her from the beginning and worked with her for decades -- as far back as her days in Park Ridge -- described a person devoted to public service, to working within the system to combat injustice and to improve social and economic equality. This in contrast to the portrait they painted -- and often proclaimed by Republican Donald Trump's own convention -- of a man who invested his energy and devotion in his own pursuit of business success.
They described how a record of active government involvement as a lawyer, a leader of economic and social projects in Arkansas, a policy-oriented first lady in the White House, a leader in the U.S. Senate and an international diplomat as U.S. secretary of state gave her diverse and unique insights into the workings of government and the forging of compromises a democracy demands. All this being experience to which Trump must stand solely as a pretender, brandishing the optimistic argument that his financial acumen and business success can be seamlessly transferred to the realm of public affairs.
Perhaps most striking of all, however, was the Democrats' description of an America that is already great, that is proud, respected, influential and strong, as opposed to the America Trump portrayed as meek, frail, disgraced and declining.
For all its public relations successes, Hillary Clinton's failures loomed large, if unspoken, throughout the week. For those sincere voters striving honestly to weigh the two candidates, Democrats may have advanced their case with descriptions of Clinton's experience and compassion, but with the millstones of Wall Street, Benghazi and a long trail of scandals still hovering over the convention hall, they did not yet -- to use a term Trump might employ and appreciate -- seal the deal on trust and judgment. Their mission in the campaign now fully under way, remains to confirm that case -- or at the very least in a tug-of-war on those points, give her the edge as the "sane, competent person" in the race, to use the words of former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg,
For the Trump base, no doubt, all the Democrats' show of eloquence, poise and patriotism served only to reaffirm the party's skill at insidious deception. But for voters still willing to examine the candidates objectively side by side, it at least made the case for paying attention to see if Clinton can actually validate the hope her party is selling.