“Back To” Hope

After two full minutes of applause from the convention floor, Bill Clinton in his speech tonight vouched for Barack Obama, saying, “Everything I learned in my eight years as president and in the work I’ve done since, in America and across the globe, has convinced me that Barack Obama is the man for this job.”

Politico’s Ben Smith writes: “In the warmest moments of Clinton’s speech, he compares Obama to himself.” And indeed, one of the most effective bits of his speech compared Obama’s rise with his own in 1992:

Republicans said I was too young, and too inexperienced to be commander in chief. Sound familiar? It didn’t work in 1992, because we were on the right side of history. And it will not work in 2008, because Barack Obama is on the right side of history.

At TNR, Noam Scheiber says: “It seemed to symbolically usher in the Obama-Clinton reconciliation we’ve all been waiting for. Recall, after all, that Bill almost always rejected the analogy during the primaries.”

The speech, to take Matt Yglesias’s effusive words, pretty adeptly showed Bill Clinton flexing “pure skills of awesomeness” in oratory, and it was one that the Obama campaign can’t be unhappy about. Still, there was the tiniest snarky nibble in Clinton’s second-to-last line: “Barack Obama will lead us away from division and fear of the last eight years back to unity and hope.”

Back to?

Here’s TNR’s Ben Wasserstein noting the itchy presence of that prepositional phrase:

That “back to” is enormously revealing. When Obama speaks about getting beyond the partisan politics of the past, he most definitely includes the Clinton Wars, from Whitewater to impeachment, in his indictment of the bad old days. (Which makes sense: He was running against Hillary Clinton, after all.) But by speaking of a restoration of unity and hope, rather than of a new beginning, Clinton showed that he’s not buying everything Obama’s selling.

Maybe Clinton didn’t get the Obamamemo on “prepositional phrases you can use without tampering with the candidate’s freshness.” Anyway, props to Wasserstein for catching a subtle rhetorical about-face.

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Jane Kim is a writer in New York.