The wild week of the Democratic National Convention brought anger and unpredictability, loud disagreements and flashes of patriotism and a party exposing its divisions and anxieties for the nation to see.
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In other words, it revealed America. And when Hillary Clinton made it all official, accepting the Democratic nomination Thursday night, she presided over a party that looked stronger, and potentially bigger, than it did just a few days ago.
“Powerful forces are threatening to pull us apart,” Clinton said. “And just as with our Founders, there are no guarantees. It's truly is up to us. We have to decide whether we will all work together so we can all rise together.”
Hillary Clinton used her convention to stage-manage a reintroduction.
“My job titles only tell you what I've done. They don't tell you why,” she said. “I get it that some people just don't know what to make of me.”
Clinton’s team designed four days swathed in nostalgia, and enough red-white-and-blue balloons to swim in. They looked back in the hopes that the nominee can look forward -– to a more optimistic future, particularly by comparison to the Republican nominee.
“America is great because America is good,” she said.
At the same time, the party featured a diverse array of voices – of different races and religions, different sexual orientations and physical abilities, plus a robust military presence, despite differing opinions on war and peace. Clinton gave an unmistakably progressive speech, but her party looked more welcoming rather than less.
That all played into the arguments Clinton framed against Donald Trump.
“He's taken the Republican Party a long way -- from ‘Morning in America’ to ‘Midnight in America,’ ” she said. “Don't let anyone tell you that our country is weak. We're not. Don't let anyone tell you we don't have what it takes. We do. … And most of all, don't believe anyone who says: ‘I alone can fix it.’ ”
Clinton also called for a gut-check on the question of readiness for the presidency.
“Ask yourself: Does Donald Trump have the temperament to be commander-in-chief?” she said. “Imagine him in the Oval Office facing a real crisis. A man you can bait with a Tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.”
Clinton was the last to address a house that was on an emotional roller-coaster all week. It was divided by a controversy that ousted the DNC chair and implicated the Russians; driven to the limits of control by passion for Bernie Sanders; and united by powerful speeches by two Obamas, a Biden, and two Clintons.
Somehow, though, the room swayed but never tipped against Clinton this week. Thursday night revealed a nominee who is relatively comfortable with the churn inside her base of voters, despite the bright-yellow shirts worn by Sanders supporters that read “Enough is Enough.” (They might have given those items to Clinton backers and would have just as accurately captured sentiments.)
Clinton addressed Sanders supporters directly.
“I want you to know, I've heard you. Your cause is our cause,” she said. “Our country needs your ideas, energy, and passion. That is the only way we can turn our progressive platform into real change for America.”
None of what she said can erase the memories or the baggage of the Clintons. It won’t lessen the fight ahead for a third-straight Democratic presidential term, or the obstacles she faces after a quarter-century in public life.
But Clinton leaves Philadelphia with more than she came with. She has a party that aired its differences loudly yet mostly respectfully, plus a comprehensive argument against Trump to take into the fall.
In her speech Thursday night, she appeared self-aware enough to recognize at least some of the soft spots in her candidacy. She also has the start of something powerful: a fresh argument for herself that acknowledges her own flaws, and the flaws of a nation.