Saturday, June 25, 2016

Hillary's convention speech

Brexit notwithstanding, I'm feeling pretty confident that Hillary's got the election in the bag. And I've been thinking about her acceptance speech in that context.

Trump is self-destructing every day. By late July he’ll be a puddle on the floor. Hillary was right to attack him vigorously at first – and her San Diego evisceration of him was both the beginning and the end of the campaign. But the convention speech represents an opportunity to pivot from campaigning to governing. Only, in this case, the person who is stereotyped as entirely prosaic will govern in poetry. 

She will use the hook of FDR’s famous 1936 acceptance speech – “Rendezvous with Destiny” – also in Philadelphia, 60 years ago. The thrust of the speech will be to lay out her vision of the future – a country and a planet of complex systems that invite and require a new kind of smart, activist government based not on fantasies of control but on engagement with a newly activist citizenry. She will co-opt Bernie’s activist army but give it something actually to do – a Peace Corps-esque generation of service that will be mobilized and paid for through a New New Deal. 

This will be a spectrum of programs funded by the Infrastructure Bank and other similar mechanisms, which will draw on activist citizen power to tackle rebuilding our physical infrastructure (as in the WPA), cleaning up and greening up the environment (cf. CCC), reinventing education (doubling the nation’s teaching corps), tackling the "last mile" of community health, etc. This will directly and materially impact employment, and it will also build a 21st century foundation for America’s competitiveness in the global economy. And there will be a regulatory component – the new sheriff we needed in 08, extending Dodd Frank.

This will reveal a dimension of Hillary few have seen – her intellectual and emotional ambition, her profound capacity to dream and to inspire. Everyone thinks she’s a boring, dogged wonk. But with this speech, she will, for the first time, unveil the historic world-changing leader she has always been inside. It will be grounded in a feminist view of the world – a collaborative, tolerant, low-ego, hard-working approach to problem-solving, the “it takes a village” approach. If she had had a real opponent in the election, she probably would have needed to run as Hillary the Fighter. But because it’s Trump, she can take her toughness for granted, and dare to go deeper. She already owns the fact that she’s a safe choice – vs. putting Claribel the Fascist anywhere near the button. Now she can surprise the world by dreaming big.

She will emerge here as the leader of a true movement – not the ephemeral cult of personality that was Bernie’s “movement.” Indeed, this speech will be the kickoff not of a campaign, but of a new idea of America, a woman’s America, an America that nurtures and listens to and relies upon its people. That’s why it’s a new New Deal. FDR was a classic alpha male – he did stuff for us. Hillary will be a Mrs. Ramsay – she will enlist us to do stuff for each other.

The result of the speech will be that people will immediately be impatient for this new era to begin.

The vision will also be seriously wonky – though artfully so. For those inclined to think in this way, it will offer a compelling worldview – a complex systems understanding of the world. It will be entirely compatible with her smart power past – her m.o. of studying systems and making forceful but thoughtful interventions. Her bias for action is real, but it isn’t a bias for control. Also, it is very different from Trump’s and Bernie’s isolationism.

The philosophy that will emerge is of government-as-catalyst, rather than either government-as-bystander or government-as-dictator. Maybe she returns at the end to FDR’s speech, which explicitly and at length described a philosophy of government, derived both from America’s origins and from the trauma of the Depression: 
“The defeats and victories of these years have given to us as a people a new understanding of our government and of ourselves…. We seek not merely to make government a mechanical implement, but to give it the vibrant personal character that is the very embodiment of human charity.”

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