A perfect 10

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From the Publisher/Arnold G. York

In every field of humane endeavor there is invariably someone at the very top of his game. Someone for whom all the pieces seem to come together at precisely the right moment, in a manner that seems effortless, producing a perfect 10.

I had a rare experience this past week. I saw two perfect 10s in two totally different fields of endeavor. On Friday, Karen and I went to the Hollywood Bowl and saw Harry Connick Jr. hold a packed audience literally in the palm of his hand. Not a wasted motion, not one sour note, not one clunky transition. It was seamless, seemingly effortless, and if he hadn’t finally walked off and closed it down we’d all still be there clapping for yet another encore.

Then again on Monday night, I was clicking around on the TV dial when I stumbled upon Bill Clinton beginning his speech to the Democratic National Convention in Boston. Normally, I never watch political speeches because I find them tedious and typically packed with meaningless mouthings, but what the hell; this was the convention so I figured I’d give it a few minutes.

He was, to put it in a word, “astounding.” He was Maria Callas at her best. Reggie Jackson in the seventh game of the World Series. Marlon Brando before time and dissipation had bloated his skills. He was, to put it even more simply, “perfect.”

In one relatively short speech he pulled it all together: all the themes of the election, the differences between the parties, a clear statement of the Democratic Party’s basic belief system, where Democrats part with Bush and the Republicans, and the reasons he believes Sen. John F. Kerry and Sen. John Edwards are what the country needs. He did it all with an easy, friendly, non confrontational Southern style, filled with humor and with more than a modicum of that old Southern Baptist rhythm that makes so many Southerners such great trial lawyers.

Now, I know that about 49 percent of you are disagreeing with what I just said, but you all ought to quietly go into your bathrooms and light a candle and give thanks to the god of politics that presidents are now limited to two terms. There is not a doubt in my mind that Bill Clinton today could stand on any stage in America, with Hillary on one side and Monica on the other, and get himself re-elected as president. This is a country that has always loved reformed sinners, and no one knows that better than Clinton, nor is there anyone who plays it better.

It wasn’t just style. It was also a triumph of intellect. If you can hear admiration in my voice it’s because the old trial lawyer in me sat there transfixed, watching a virtuoso walking through a minefield without a misstep. He had a very complex agenda to accomplish. He had stir up the faithful, yet he had to do it without overtly trashing the president. He had to lay out the reasons the Republicans have failed and why the Democrats could do better, but he had to do that without being perceived as assassinating their character because “Brutus/Bush is an honorable man” and is still the president. He had to defend his own honor and his administration’s accomplishments, but still keep the audience in the hall, and in the country, looking forward and not backward, and not make any of it sound like sour grapes. He had to get all the other sides’ possible points out there himself and preempt the counterattack, which he did masterfully.

It wasn’t just President Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney doing their damnedest to avoid service in Vietnam. It was Bush, Cheney and Clinton all avoiding service, while at the same time Kerry, who also could have avoided it, felt a duty to serve, and did so.

It wasn’t just Bush, Cheney and their friends getting tax cuts, while programs were being cut. It was Clinton kidding the audience about how, now that he was a millionaire, suddenly the Republicans were deeply concerned about his welfare, which was a welcome change from the way they usually treated him in the past. He did it all with style.

Will it work? In fact, will it matter? It certainly was good for Clinton. Will it be equally as good for Kerry and Edwards? Only November will tell us that. This was Clinton’s comeback performance into the good graces of the party, and perhaps even the nation. If the numbers and the commentary look good, you can expect to see Clinton out there beating the drums for Kerry/Edwards in every tight state on the campaign trail.