PHILADELPHIA, July 27, 2016 — Third nights of American political conventions are usually reserved for the vice presidential candidates. The nominee to ride on Air Force Two is often an unknown quantity to most Americans.
VP nominees traditionally give speeches that introduce themselves to the nation. They then fade into the background, but for one night they are the star attraction.
Democrats broke that tradition this year. Does anyone other than hardcore political junkies know the name of Hillary Clinton’s running mate? Take a poll of people on the street. Some nondescript white guy was Clinton’s hard choice.
The man is Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, who used to be the state’s governor. He was also the DNC Party Chair (2009–2011) who yielded the position to Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
Among Virginia Democrats, Kaine is well liked and well respected. The rest of America has no idea who he is.
Although he did speak on Wednesday night, most Americans are not sure whether he is running for state comptroller or city council.
How was Kaine reduced to utter irrelevance on his big night? The answer comes in the towering ego and colossal narcissism that has driven Democrats since 2009. President Barack Obama is not one to respect tradition. Everything is about him. Fading into the background is not what he does.
Obama talks and talks, and in between speeches he keeps talking. He has every right to speak about anything at any time, whenever he wants. That does not mean he should.
Wednesday night was supposed to be about Tim Kaine. But Kaine was only an afterthought. Obama was the headliner.
Vice President Joe Biden set things up nicely for Kaine. Biden has been ridiculed over the years as a bumbler, but the foot-in-mouth character does not tell the whole story.
For all his verbal foibles, Biden has delivered some excellent speeches when it mattered most. He was excoriated for plagiarizing Labour leader Neil Pinnock in 1988, but he owned up to his mistake. His speech in 2012 was magnificent, a heartfelt message that was actually better than that of his boss, who followed. In 2016, Biden again hit a home run.
The death of his son Beau a year ago has further humanized a man who began his political career with the tragic death of his first wife and child.
Biden was funny, self-deprecating, and even when speaking nonsense, likable. He paved the way for Kaine.
Kaine channelled the ghost of former Ross Perot running mate James B. Stockdale. But Kaine’s version of “Who Am I? Why am I here?” was less effective.
Kaine asked an important question: “Why trust Hillary?” He had no satisfactory answers. He managed, “she’s consistent” and “she’s battled to put kids first,” platitudes and nothing more.
Kaine’s stab at substance had a hollow core. Clinton has been “fighting to get health insurance for eight million” and “fighting for the well-being of women and children around the world.”
Clinton’s supporters tell us what she “fights for,” “strives for,” and has “dedicated her life to” without mentioning where and when she ever succeeded. Kaine’s best defense of her was her policy attempts, with results being irrelevant.
He even offered the Republican team a gift-wrapped attack line. Kaine said, “I trust Hillary Clinton with our son’s life.”
Benghazi mother Pat Smith sharply disagreed with that assessment at the GOP Convention in Cleveland.
Kaine’s speech had a shelf life of yesterday. Anything he said was forgotten when Obama took the stage. Democrats made a major mistake by having Kaine precede Obama.
Obama will never allow himself to be upstaged. After reducing Kaine to a footnote, Obama gave a speech that praised himself more than it did Clinton.
Obama wandered off into his standard 2008 stump speeches, eventually reminding himself that his purpose was to promote Clinton.
He began with all of his accomplishments, most of which are matters of intense dispute. He claimed that, “Through diplomacy we shut down Iran’s nuclear weapon’s program.”
He then offered grating self-pity disguised as accomplishment.
“You don’t know what it’s like to manage a global crisis.”
Based on the condition of the world, many Americans would say that neither does he.
Obama insisted that, “Hillary Clinton is respected around the world” without naming any important world leaders who respect her.
He then returned to himself without a hint of self-awareness: “Democracy doesn’t work if you constantly demonize each other.”
He said that his white, Kansas grandparents warned him about “showoffs,” “braggarts,” and “bullies.” He meant to be criticizing Trump, but Obama embodies those qualities his grandparents warned him against.
Whether supports Obama or dislikes him, there is no debate that he was the star of the night. This was fine in 2004, because it happened organically. This was totally appropriate in 2008 and 2012, because the man running for president should be the main focus.
This was not appropriate in 2016. No other outgoing president felt the desperate need to insert himself this way into a convention that was supposed to be about a successor.
President Ronald Reagan was still beloved in 1988, but he made sure the entire world knew that the 1988 GOP Convention was about Vice President George Herbert Walker Bush and Senator Dan Quayle.
In 2000, even President Bill Clinton put aside his obsession with talking to let Vice President Al Gore and Senator Joseph Lieberman have the spotlight.
In 2008, President George W. Bush spoke briefly on the first night and ceded the rest of the convention to Senator John McCain and Governor Sarah Palin.
At the 2016 GOP Convention, Donald Trump did not upstage his vice presidential choice. Trump casts as large a shadow as Obama, but he smartly understood that Wednesday night belonged to Governor Mike Pence.
For all the talk about The Donald’s ego, it was Obama who sucked every bit of oxygen out of the Wells Fargo Center last night and left Kaine crumpled in a corner.
The success or failure of the 2016 Democrat Convention will rest almost entirely on Hillary Clinton’s Thursday speech. If the speech everyone remembers is Obama’s, that will be her fault alone.
Obama already made us forget some guy from Virginia who is running for something. That is quintessential Obama.