This is what a $300 ticket will get you these days. I swear to Christ, that chicken would bounce if you dropped it from waist height.
At one o'clock this afternoon, Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland welcomed Democrats to "what may be the largest political fundraiser in Washington state history." Over 3000 people packed into the Washington State Convention Center for a luncheon featuring speeches from Senators Murray and Cantwell, gubernatorial candidate Jay Inslee, and Bill Clinton. Based on how many of the speakers referenced Clinton's "arithmetic" comments, and based on how enthusiastically the crowd clapped at each of those references, it was pretty obvious who people were here to see.
The room was basically made up of two ballrooms placed side to side, and there were plenty of grey hairs in the more expensive front half of the hall. The cheers for musician Ben Gibbard's two-song set all erupted from the back of the hall, where the younger, less wealthy donors sat. Unlike many of these events, the program was zippy and relatively energetic all the way through. Senator Patty Murray was as on fire as Senator Patty Murray gets, railing against the Republican war on women and tying Rob McKenna to anti-abortion right-wingers who want to defund Planned Parenthood. (McKenna, Murray said, is famous for "running and ducking and yelling at anyone who brings this up.") Her sharpest line came in defense of Obamacare: "By the way, most women at about the age of twelve start having pre-existing conditions." Senator Maria Cantwell was a little logier than Murray. She focused primarily on business. "I'm for regulation," she said, but that doesn't mean that she's against manufacturing: "I want to make something in America besides exotic financial instruments."
Denis Hayes, "the founder of Earth Day," thanked everyone for staying inside on such a beautiful Saturday. The weather outside, he said, was "82 and windy, just like Clint Eastwood. And I should note that there are no empty chairs out there" in the hall. (Zing!) There were other speakers—Suzan DelBene and Derek Kilmer both spoke briefly, although DelBene did not speak briefly enough for my tastes—but mostly they just offered up short remarks with a zinger or two.
Jay Inslee gave a better speech than I've ever seen him give, an autobiographical sketch that mostly focused on clean energy issues. Inslee always cuts a great figure, with his commanding voice and his brilliant suits (whoever buys Inslee's suits is the greatest unsung hero of his campaign), but this was the first time I've seen him deliver a real, passionate, stem-winder of a speech. He opened by extolling the energy of being in a room with "three thousand allies who lit up like Christmas trees when we heard Bill Clinton [at the DNC] announce the fundamental creed of our family: 'We are all in this together.'"
Inslee reiterated that he was "rooted here," in "the innovative story of the state of Washington." He reached, and mostly managed to keep hold of, some lofty rhetoric: "We invent. We create. We build....it is our destiny to lead the world...in technological evolution." He argued that his will be an administration that "unites the farmers of eastern Washington with the engineers of West Seattle." And the centerpiece of his plans involve the burgeoning field of "clean energy, and that economic possibility has Washington state written all over it." He ended with an affirmation of his beliefs that got the crowd roaring to its feet: He swore to defend women's rights, marriage equality, clean energy,and collective bargaining in an enthusiastic, impassioned list. The room responded with genuine love. I have to believe it must be one of Inslee's best public speaking moments. Either he's getting sharper as a candidate or he really loves big, friendly rooms; time, I guess, will tell.
I wish I could've taken a picture of Bill Clinton's tan suit; I really want you to see it. Unfortunately, the screens in the hall were too bright for my camera to capture, he was too far away from me, and I suspect that if I approached the stage to take a better picture, a Secret Service agent would've shot me in the neck. So let me just say: It was not a very good suit. I would go so far as to call it an ugly suit. But it was the kind of suit that only someone who's completely confident in himself would wear to a rally of three thousand people. (UPDATE: Go check out the Seattle PI's photos of the suit and tell me I'm wrong.)
"Washington state has been very good to me," Clinton said as he took the stage. He lavished love on all the speakers and everyone who worked to make the luncheon possible. In his weirdly supernatural way, Clinton got every name and title exactly right, nailing every little detail with what appeared to be a few notes to give him guidance. You have to wonder if, when Republicans praise politicians for speaking without teleprompters, Bill Clinton is the guy they have in mind; he's a wonder to see. That said, Clinton didn't deliver the kind of brilliant speech that he did at the DNC a week and a half ago. Anyone who bought tickets for the luncheon expecting a repeat, or even a cover version, of that speech is naive. A few times, Clinton almost appeared to lose his way, pausing to let his great brain catch up to the point he wanted to make.
But he was wonky and mostly on-message, occasionally digressing to talk about the economic changes the city of San Diego has gone through, or the benefits of a program to install LED street lights. He buttered up his hosts, declaring that "Washington State is one of the great trading states of America, one of the great shipping states, one of the great exporting states," and so we better understand that we live in an "interdependent world where forces both good and bad pass through borders."
"Let's just talk about how the economy really works," Clinton said, and the room practically groaned with pleasure. "You must have at least one source of good new jobs every five to eight years." In his administration, it was the internet, which added "eight percent of our employment, and twenty percent of our income growth." In Inslee's administration, Clinton argued, it'll be clean energy and biotech.
Clinton has an array of gestures that he unrolls over the course of a speech. There's the classic pointing-with-his-thumb maneuver that has long since passed into the realm of parody, the expansive stretch for something just out of his reach, the warm inward sweep of a hand to welcome you into his worldview. The gesture he seemed most fond of today came when he employed the word "and" in a certain sort of way, and at the same time, he would sweep his hand around in the air like he was cleaning a whiteboard. Though he claims to have nothing against conservatives—some of his best supporters, he says with generous intonations, are conservatives—he thinks conservatives have lost their way. They want a bigger military budget AND a smaller debt. They want to cut taxes for the wealthy AND work on the deficit. They want to refute facts AND somehow get away with it.
Clinton mocked the Republican impulse (and this was as close as he'd get to directly mentioning Rob McKenna, who frankly seemed below his notice) to not talk about facts. They'll wait, he said, and tell you about their plans after the election. "I 'll tell you what I'd like to see you about after the election," Clinton told the crowd. He said he'd like Washington "to put America right at the front of the line" by voting for Jay Inslee.
This wasn't poetry Clinton, it was prose Clinton. But even Bill Clinton delivering a local-issues speech in Seattle at something like 60% power is automatically the best politician in the state. His speech isn't going to be remembered a year, or hell, a month from now. But leaving the hall, the crowd was still excited; what Clinton did was he caused Inslee and Murray and pretty much everybody else to up their games and deliver at a higher level. Maybe that's another part of Clinton's genius, too.