Hillary Clinton claimed her position in history Thursday night along with the Democratic presidential nomination and the responsibility to keep Donald Trump out of the White House.
“America is once again at a moment of reckoning,” she said in her acceptance speech in Philadelphia.
Trump, the Republican nominee, rarely goes a day without upending the norms of civility or flouting the Constitution. Yet Clinton, the first woman to top a major party national ticket, enters the most consequential battle of her eventful life essentially tied with Trump in the polls — and with a 38% favorability rating that reflects both relentless GOP attacks and self-inflicted wounds.
Clinton went into her speech knowing she needed to inspire more trust and be seen as a credible “change-maker” in a year when most voters are dissatisfied with the status quo. Reaching out to Bernie Sanders supporters, she said of the progressive party platform, “We wrote it together, now let’s go out and make it happen together.” Her “primary mission” as president, she added, would be to increase economic opportunity for American workers.
Like the convention itself, Clinton’s nearly hour-long speech was designed to showcase her life in the policy trenches, fighting not for revolution but for change nonetheless. She invoked her 1996 book on the fate of children, It Takes a Village, saying it means that we are “stronger together” (her campaign slogan) and that nobody can lift a country alone (a direct rebuke to Trump’s assertions last week in Cleveland that he alone can fix the nation’s problems).
Even with the gulfs between Clinton and Trump on issues ranging from immigration to guns to climate change, temperament and character are at the forefront of this unusual presidential campaign between two unusually unpopular candidates.
Clinton made an extensive case against the rival she called easily provoked. “A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man you can trust with nuclear weapons,” she said. She did not address her own vulnerabilities — huge Wall Street speaking fees and the private email fiasco that prompted the FBI director to conclude this month that she was “extremely careless” in handling classified data as secretary of State.
The election is a choice between two imperfect nominees. And one of them is so erratic that the “sane, competent” standard laid out Wednesday by independent billionaire and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg might come to define that choice.
Another way of looking at it: Clinton is running a competent campaign, and Trump is running a chaotic campaign that inescapably looks like a preview of a Trump White House. He has resisted so many pleas to become more “presidential” that it seems futile to expect he will.
Virtually every minute of Clinton’s convention conveyed her history as a woman “in the arena,” as President Obama put it in a nod to Theodore Roosevelt. You don’t need to like or agree with Clinton to recognize her persistence and toughness.
If nothing else, her speech made it clear that she won’t be daunted by Trump, and she will fight him for every last vote.