Danielle McLaughlin: The week Hillary Clinton made history
OPINION: Hillary Clinton won new followers this week, but tough tests remain.
It was a hot, humid week in Philadelphia. An observer for the past few days of the Democratic National Convention, I arrived at the city's main train station on Wednesday. I watched as attendees stood in a long taxi line under the beating sun, as they looked to make their way south to convention HQ, the Wells Fargo Center. I met donors and delegates in downtown bars where the convention played on CNN with the volume up high. I talked to protesters in a small encampment in Franklin Delano Roosevelt Park, outside the high steel fences enclosing the convention centre. In the leafy shade of the campsite – surrounded by handmade signs that read "Hillary, who will you bomb first?", "Demilitarise the Police" and "#StopTPP" – Earnest Ramos, a "Bernie or Bust" protester who ran the camp said simply: "we're here to be a part of the conversation".
Hillary Clinton delivered the most important speech of her life this week. She stood before 20,000 Democrats in the Wells Fargo Center and before a TV audience of nearly 30 million. She implored Americans to reject the "bigotry and bombast" of the Trump campaign. She leaned heavily on traditionally Republican rhetoric of patriotism and America's founding principles: "out of many, one".
The first woman to accept the nomination for president from a major political party, Clinton made history in a 240-year-old country that granted women the vote just 96 years ago.
The week started inauspiciously. Timed to inflict maximum distraction and damage, Wikileaks published 20,000 emails stolen from seven employees of the Democratic National Committee. The emails contained no evidence of political action by the neutral committee that favoured Clinton over Sanders. But they revealed frustration, and at times derision, aimed at the Sanders campaign. Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned. She was later forced to leave Philadelphia and forgo her customary role of opening and closing the Convention. The last thing Hillary Clinton needed to start her big week was another email scandal.
The Democratic nominee's most pressing job this week was to combat widely held concerns about her trustworthiness and authenticity. She made the case for her presidency, contrasting the threat of Donald Trump, with a lineup of Democratic heavyweights. The President and the Vice President. First Lady Michelle Obama. Former Republican New York Mayor and billionaire Michael Bloomberg. And of course, her husband. This was in stark contrast to the RNC. There, party leadership, including anyone with the surname Bush and Ohio Governor John Kasich stayed away – unthinkably – in droves.
Clinton also made her case with the stories of ordinary people. People she has touched, helped, fought for. People who lost children in wars. People who lost children to gun violence on the streets, and while wearing a police uniform. Survivors of 9/11. And people who continue the kind of work she started as a young lawyer. "It was surreal" said Kate Burdick, a lawyer at Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia. Burdick, as Clinton did decades before, works to improve outcomes for youth in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. She took to the DNC stage on Tuesday. "You don't often make headlines helping kids. But Hillary Clinton has been fighting for children her entire career" she said. "I was there to talk about Clinton's public service; things that even her biggest supporters might not even know about."
Did Clinton deliver? In a process that is fundamentally about story-telling, did she effectively tell the story of her life, her service, and America under her watch? Predictably, DNC attendees went wild as she closed the convention. Early polling indicated viewers were more likely to vote for her after the speech. But Clinton, like Trump, needs to convert undecided voters to win this election. Was this week a step in that direction? We'll know on November 8.
- Sunday Star Times