Hillary Clinton's big night

Behind the News with Bill Ritter
August 26, 2008 12:24:59 PM PDT
So what will Hillary Clinton say - and how will she say it? That we're still asking that question says much for what has gone right and what has clearly gone wrong for the Democrats at this convention.

It is hard to argue that - despite the gazillion votes she got and the clear support for her among millions of people - Hillary Clinton hasn't tried to make this convention as much about her as Barack Obama. That may be good for Sen. Clinton -- and that's a debatable statement ? but it most probably is not good for the Democratic Party.

There are some here who are now asking, "where's the beef?" at this convention. There's been so little red meat here, you'd think the country wasn't sliding towards or already in a recession, or in a war that has lasted five and a-half years.

That's the message today from James Carville - a friend of the Clinton's, who is on the warpath that his party hasn't found a real theme to hammer home each night.

Remember George W. Bush - the man with the lowest approval ratings since Richard Nixon? The Democrats appear to have forgotten him, says Carville.

It's one thing to be nice, but quite another to make nicey nice. And it's the latter that the Dems have apparently focused on - at least on the first day of their confab. And since there are only 4 days of this convention, that's, if my old fashioned math is correct, 25% of the gathering. Each day is precious, Carville insists.

Of course, it's Carville's former clients who may be part of the reason for all this distraction. And it might be Carville's former client who turns around the tone here. Will Hillary Clinton begin to set an attack mode tonight? And with how much passion will she give her political blessing to Barack Obama? Will she cast aside the nicey nice theme ? and become the ram-rod? The answers could very well determine whether Obama gets to the White House next year.

Certainly things will change when Joe Biden takes the podium Wednesday night. His natural tendency is to be aggressive at a microphone - and that's the typical Vice Presidential role anyway. We'll see.

Many people have taken a very different view of the Carville criticism. They say that the convention did on opening night what it was supposed to do - portray a feel-good atmosphere and introduce Michelle Obama and the Obama family to America. No question, they did that. As one delegate from Texas told me today: We can't do things the old-fashioned way anymore. We need to connect with people.

Hard to argue with having those adorable Obama kids on national television. It ain't red meat politics, to be sure. But it resonates with millions.

Meanwhile, it was also incredibly moving Monday night, seeing Ted Kennedy come to the podium ? most likely the last convention he'll attend. The patriarch of the Kennedy clan, 76 years old and battling brain cancer, to quote my son who watched with eyes wide open, "didn't look that sick."

It was, by all accounts, quite a triumph of will and steely determination by the Senator from Massachusetts to fly cross-country, and get up on that stage. During the videotaped tribute to him - produced by filmmaker Ken Burns and introduced by Caroline Kennedy - stagehands quietly put a stool by the podium in case he needed to sit.

He never touched it. The crowd rose to its feet in thunderous applause and cheering - the first time they did that at this gathering. It was remarkably emotional.

And indeed Kennedy was the toughest speaker all night - blasting Pres. Bush and trying to link his brother's Presidential legacy to the hopes of an Obama Presidency.

And I don't mean to throw cold water on the Kennedy fest from last night - but I thought the way the convention organizers ended his presentation made the finale a bit flat. The music was the song "Still The One" - and it drowned out the ear-piercing roars the crowd wanted to give Sen. Kennedy - the same cheers they greeted him with. Bad choreography, if you ask me. The appearance just sort of ended. (See all of last night's speeches by clicking here.)

We're also looking at the role of the new black leadership in the Democratic Party. These are not your father's African American leaders. These young turks were schooled not on the mean streets of urban ghettoes or the rural dustbowls of the segregated South. Instead, they learned macroeconomics and global politics at some of the finest universities. And they learned not by marching in the streets, but by listening to their parents at the dinner table.

They are, much like Barack Obama himself, the product of a blended culture, where heritage is important, but diversity is crucial. They are in so many ways already the embodiment of the "dream" their parents' generation talked about in the 60s.

It's a generational thing - and nothing different than what's been happening for years. That's the perspective of Charles Rangel, the veteran New York Congressman, when I asked him about this last night. He is part of the old guard - and, until this morning, was not scheduled to speak at this convention. I asked him if he had wanted to. Yes, is all he said. And then, just like that, he's now speaking.

Rangel told me that, just as he and I had moved away from our fathers, my son - and at that he pointed at my son who was next to me - will stake his own independence. That, said Rangel, is what's happening to the new generation of black leaders, and it's a natural process. (Click here to see the interview.) We talk to Corey Booker and Jesse Jackson Jr. today for our story.

Also, thanks to all those wrote in for our web chat last night. We will do it again tonight with political reporter Dave Evans. (Click here to submit your question.)

As I write this, Hillary Clinton is touring the stage area of the Pepsi Center. I'm writing in our skybooth where we broadcast. She's surveying the stage with her daughter. I can't help but think about what she's thinking, and what she's going to say. We'll soon find out.

I hope you can join us, tonight at 5, 6 and 11, for our coverage - we have a team of reporters here - and we're the only New York station to send a team to this convention.


CLICK HERE to sign up for Bill Ritter's daily newsletter, Behind the News with Bill Ritter.

On the Net:

Barack Obama: http://www.barackobama.com
Democratic National Convention http://www.demconvention.com/
Convention videos from the DNCC http://www.demconvention.com/dncc-video/