For the most part, Clinton’s was a speech that could have been given, with very little modification, by almost any Democratic Senate candidate. There was the hard-luck story by proxy, in this case her mother's abandonment at the hands of Clinton's grandparents. There was the invocation of the American spirit (resilience, determination). There were paeans to small businesses and the importance of family. An accusation that Republicans belong to the past, delivered as an excruciatingly corny riff on the Beatles (“They believe in yesterday!”). “It's America's basic bargain: If you do your part, you ought to be able to get ahead,” said Clinton and seemingly every other candidate you've ever heard give a speech.
There was a token attempt to make a personal connection. Clinton spoke about her mother’s difficult beginning, neglected by her family and working as a housemaid from the age of 14. Clinton talked about volunteering, through her church, to babysit the children of Mexican farmworkers, and knocking on doors for the Children's Defense Fund to find children whose disabilities prevented them from going to school. “I may not be the youngest candidate in this race,” she said, “but I will be the youngest woman president in the history of the United States! And the first grandmother as well.”
The crowd, which skewed young, diverse, and polite, gave this line a cheer. They waved little American flags and held up their phones to take pictures and videos. Clinton will spend the coming week visiting Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada, and will proceed to flesh out her vision with policy speeches, delivered approximately weekly until the end of the summer.
Clinton’s advisers worry about the lack of passion the candidate elicits, but Saturday's speech was so non-rousing as to make one wonder whether that wasn't intentional—was it an attempt to bring Clinton down to earth, to make her ordinary? To deflate the aura of fame that clings to her and turn her into just another candidate, one who is solid and sensible and not too flashy, with lots of concrete plans?
Clinton tried this tack before, in 2008, when she tried in vain to convince Democratic voters that Barack Obama was all style and no substance. But this time, she is hoping she won't have that kind of competition. On my way into Saturday's rally, I ran into Charlie Rangel, the scandal-ridden Harlem representative, still going strong at 85. I asked him how he thought Hillary's campaign was going, and he laughed.
“Well, who's she competing against?” he said. Technically, there are three other declared Democratic candidates, but Clinton leads them in the polls by an average of 48 percentage points. Rangel said he did not know anyone who regarded them as real competition to Clinton. “She's doing exceptionally well,” Rangel said, “in a one-man race.”