Perhaps it’s the Writers Guild strike or the imminent end of the football season. Or maybe I simply have too much time on my hands as I wait for classes to start, but I keep finding myself becoming more and more engrossed by the primaries, particularly what feels like a historical clash between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. I still have a hard time taking any of the Republicans seriously, whether the Mayor of 9/11 or Mitt “Two Silvers” Romney, but the Clinton and Obama speeches both had moments that I found positively electric in what is shaping up to be an incredibly competitive primary race. And I have to admit that it says something cool that the first two Democratic caucus and primary winners were an African-American and a woman (as a side note, I do think it’s important to emphasize that Clinton’s victory is not the “upset” that all of the cable news chatterers are making it out to be).
While I remain convinced that this week’s gendered attacks on Clinton’s “emotional moment” were reprehensible, I do think that Clinton handled those attacks brilliantly and gave what I found to be an impressive, impassioned speech, one that essentially took the attacks (Hillary is too emotional or not emotional enough) and turned them on their head, in part by suggesting that the week’s events had allowed her to “find [her] own voice.” This assertion was not so subtly reinforced by the mise-en-scene of Clinton’s victory speech, in which Bill Clinton, Wesley Clark, and Madeleine Albright were conspicuously absent, replaced by a backdrop of Bennetton-esque college kids and identifying Hillary with the youth vote that Obama had supposedly cornered.
But one of Hillary’s strongest moments came when she asserted (and this is a rushed personal transcript scrawled on the back of an envelope), “Too many have been invisible for too long. Well, you are not invisible to me….There will be no more invisible Americans.” It’s a nice twist on John Edwards’ “Two Americas,” but without the baggage of polarization. More importantly, like Obama, Hillary has begun connecting her campaign to a larger narrative about empowerment, avoiding Edwards trial lawyer rhetoric of fighting for and replacing that with something more inclusive (fighting together). Her description of America’s “can-do spirit” almost perfectly echoed Obama’s mantra, “Yes, we can.” Hillary also channeled her inner Kennedy by calling for viewers to “join in this call to greatness” and to “roll up our sleeves and keep going.”
I may be wrong, but the emphasis on participation, on citizenship, on an “us,” seems significantly different than the most recent presidential elections, particularly the 2004 Fearfest. It was already there in Obama’s “post-partisan” rhetoric, but the emphasis on an empowered electorate works incredibly well and seems designed to include voters in what has seemed, for decades, like an alienating process. Perhaps a better way of putting this is that Obama and Clinton are attempting to articulate a new form of citizenship, one that I can’t help but find at least somewhat intriguing.
[I'm still waiting for Clinton and Obama's speeches to be posted to YouTube and will add links to them later.]
Update: Here’s Obama’s speech (via TPM). I imagine that Clinton’s speech will be posted soon.
Update 2: And here’s Clinton.
Update 3: I hope it’s clear that I’m not endorsing anyone here (I honestly haven’t decided how I’d vote in the primary), but that I’m simply intrigued by the ways in which Obama and Hillary, in particular, are talking about citizenship, participation, and about the electoral process in general.