I rarely cared for Clinton's speeches in the past: They usually seemed canned, sanctimonious, and oriented towards the bland "uplift" that is supposed to resonate with soccer moms. So it was a surprise as well as a pleasure to hear his genial, witty, and very effective oration to the Democrats tonight. Set aside the speech's actual content, which had the poor signal-to-bullshit ratio you'd expect at a political convention. Revel instead in the man's rhetorical style: By adopting a mildly ironic tone, Clinton transformed what might otherwise be weaknesses into strengths. How do you attack the rich without alienating centrist voters? By reminding them that you're rich too. How do you contrast Kerry's service in Vietnam with Bush's party-hardy days in the National Guard? By noting that you were a draft-dodger yourself. The man even managed to mock his legendary ego, in the course of singing the praises of John Edwards. I half expected him to invoke Monica Lewinsky to make the case for John Kerry's personal values.
There is irony that works, and there is irony that doesn't. I'm not sure what surrealist strategist suggested that Jimmy Carter was the best man to address foreign policy, or that Hillary should talk about health care. But Bill Clinton knew what he was doing, and he did it well. That's the first speech I've enjoyed at a Democratic convention since 1988, when Jesse Jackson and Ann Richards stole the spotlight from the last unappealing nominee from Massachusetts.