The best part of Hillary Clinton’s acceptance speech was how little she was in it.
Clinton knew before she accepted the Democratic presidential nomination on Thursday that she isn’t especially well liked, and that many voters don’t trust her. She knows we know her well, which leaves her little chance to change our minds.
So she tried to disappear before our eyes.
Dressed in white — male nominees have to speak in somber suits — she presented the 2016 race as a fight between light and dark, with her on the light side and Donald Trump on the fear-mongering dark. She had the spotlight, but shared it as widely as she could. Instead of praising herself, she let speakers including her husband and daughter list her accomplishments.
Earlier in the convention, independents and conservatives like Michael Bloomberg and Adm. John Hutson presented Trump as an unacceptable option. Bloomberg said only Clinton was “sane” and “competent.”
But President Obama did the best job of setting up the 2016 race as a contest between one person working on behalf of many good people, and a lone figure out only for himself. He seized on a few words in Donald Trump’s acceptance speech:
I have joined the political arena so that the powerful can no longer beat up on people who cannot defend themselves. Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.
America is already strong. And I promise you, our strength, our greatness, does not depend on Donald Trump. In fact, it doesn’t depend on any one person … We’re not a fragile people. We’re not a frightful people. Our power doesn’t come from some self-declared savior promising that he alone can restore order as long as we do things his way. We don’t look to be ruled.
Clinton followed up on that criticism:
Really? “I alone can fix it?” Isn’t he forgetting: troops on the front lines. Police officers and firefighters who run toward danger. Doctors and nurses who care for us. Teachers who change lives. Entrepreneurs who see possibilities in every problem. Mothers who lost children to violence and are building a movement to keep other kids safe. He’s forgetting every last one of us. Americans don’t say: “I alone can fix it.” We say: “We’ll fix it together.”
Her campaign motto, “Stronger Together,” makes the same case — this isn’t about her, the slogan says, it’s about us. All of us except Trump, of course, whose statements against Muslims and Mexicans have banished him from a shared place in the light.
It isn’t Us Against Them but Us Against Him, because he believes there is a Them.
“Love trumps hate,” Clinton said, borrowing a phrase from
Campaigns have to tell very broad stories, and borrow from the oldest stories in the world. At the Republican National Convention, Ben Carson made a flimsy case that Clinton embraced Lucifer, the angel driven from heaven because he wanted his own kingdom.
Clinton reshaped that idea: She suggested one group of people bathed in light, united by love, while another would-be ruler tried from the darkness to divide them. One figure, looking for credit for himself.
She tried her best to fade into the white light, a vague apparition in the service of us.