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There was not a lot of disagreement inside Denver’s Pepsi Center about the quality of Hillary Clinton’s performance Tuesday night. Claire McCaskill, the Minnesota senator, had been a bust. Michelle Obama was just fine. But the junior senator from New York, the woman who almost managed to become the Democratic Party’s first female nominee but came up short, was great.
For a woman who has frequently been derided as unfunny and robotic, there were a lot of jokes, and good ones. Did you catch the one about John McCain and George Bush appearing together in Minnesota next week? “It makes sense they’ll be together in the Twin Cities,” she said. “Because these days they’re awfully difficult to tell apart.”
Clinton talked of health care, and public service, and of the principles of the Democratic Party being more important than the personalities running for president. She was forceful and compelling. A great exit to her race.
What was less clear to some watching was who the speech served most: Hillary or Obama.
At a party hosted by Politico, one New York media player emailed a friend inside Team Hillary to say, “Home Run…Speech was perfect — just enough to appease the left and still assure McCain wins.”
Rick Hertzberg of The New Yorker thought that was pushing it, but he wasn’t about to credit Clinton with unifying the party either. “It was a gracious speech,” he said at a small party Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter hosted nearby with a few friends. “Far more so than the one McGovern gave in ’68 or than Reagan gave in ’76 or than Kennedy gave in 1980. But it would have been nice to hear her give one real reason for Obama’s candidacy beyond that he was running against a Republican.”
That she did not do, though Alter pointed out that “a character reference would have run false.” (This is a good point, since it’s difficult to refute the complaint that you’re perpetually insincere if you have to spend the last five minutes of your performance sucking up to a man everyone assumes you hate).
“I think Sean Penn put it better than anyone else,” said Walter Isaacson, who was chatting with the actor nearby. “He said, ‘It was the best first campaign speech of 2012.'”