Qualified people get passed over for jobs all the time. Having the best résumé, doing the perfect interview and even providing the most stellar references (“Applicant saved me from a burning building once and makes a damn good cup of coffee; hire him!”) does not always guarantee that you’ll get the job. More often than not it’s about whether people at the new job like you and if they can envision you every day in the building, in the elevator with your security badge, surprising Gail in accounting with some Au Bon Pain or even just sitting behind your desk every day tapping away at the keyboard. Envisioning you in the job is 90 percent of getting the job.
Last night, Hillary Clinton put that image in America’s collective heads. She looked like a president, she acted like a president and she shattered more glass than Shaq on a 1990s backboard. Which was important, because this is going to be one of the closest races in her political career.
Compared with almost every other night at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Thursday was an odd one. First, the lines were even longer than usual. Record numbers of people wanted to get into the building to see Clinton speak, and they were lining up early and enthusiastically. Oddly enough, the security itself was not as strict.
You got the impression that after a week of managing long lines and confused Uber drivers, the gate-security people were just there so they wouldn’t get fined. What was once a long inspection process to authenticate my security badge became a cursory glance. I could’ve had a bunch of Kroger Plus bonus cards around my neck on a lanyard and I think I could’ve gotten in along with the rest of the crowd. The buzz in the crowd wasn’t so much about Clinton—I actually heard more people curious to see how Chelsea Clinton would do, given her general disinterest in campaigning. Chelsea did not disappoint.
She came to the stage with all the passion and comfort of a 17-year-old asked by her parents at the family reunion to recite that one poem that won her the school oratory contest … when she was 9. Chelsea has been doing this since she was around 14 years old. She seemed, not quite uncomfortable onstage, but really almost unmoved by the process. She talked about Hillary doing Facetime with her granddaughter and how her mom was such a great person.
It was not an attempt to “humanize” Hillary—a very overused phrase at this point; it was because that’s all that Chelsea wanted to talk about. It’s almost as if she was saying, “You all know my mother is qualified, so I’m really just going to say I love her and call it a day.” She did, and that was all. Then, in a move that was rare for either convention, Hillary Clinton started almost exactly on time and launched into a very different kind of speech.
This was not “the most important speech of Hillary Clinton’s life,” despite what other pundits will tell you. Could this speech compare to what she had to do in 1996, when she was expected to defend her husband, Bill Clinton, personally and professionally? Or in 2000, when she had the same job but also had to convince America that Al Gore was an actual human and not a cyborg from Skynet dead set on ruling the nation through numbers, fear and boredom? Or how about 2008, when she had to swallow her pride and speak on behalf of Barack Obama after that primary where she was supposed to be the “inevitable candidate”?
The only thing I could imagine would be harder is if Steph Curry was asked to hand the trophy to LeBron James and then say a few words on King James’ behalf. The point being, Hillary Clinton has had tougher speeches than what she had to do last night.
The speech itself was impressive because it was likely the most natural speech that Clinton ever gave in her campaign career. She talked about the work she’s done for the country, why she loves America and how she will fight for everyone. She didn’t just give lip service to Bernie Sanders supporters; she pointed out that the Democratic Party platform is an ode to their hard work, and thus they have a victory of sorts that she is beholden to.
Some of my colleagues said that she spent too much time talking Donald Trump and not enough time touting her own résumé. I disagree. Clinton is that qualified employee. She, everyone else in the room and every Republican in America knows that the former first lady is “qualified” for the job. So what she did last night was show us what it would look like when she was in the White House, and then show us, in unvarnished terms, what it would be like for Trump to be in the White House.
Do you want Donald Trump riding up the elevator with you every day? Do you want to run into Donald Trump in the break room? Doesn’t Donald Trump seem like the kind of guy who brings doughnuts for the whole office and then, an hour later, sends out an email saying everyone owes him $5 for the doughnuts he generously provided?
Hillary Clinton will get a postconvention bounce, and the race for president will be tight for the next 100 days as the Republican and Democratic parties find ways to bring out their bases and convince voters that their candidate is the best way for America to move forward. Clinton didn’t change that dynamic in a significant way last night, but she did give us an image to work with. She looks presidential now, and as long as more Americans can see that image in their minds than can see it for Trump, she’s got a chance of making that image reality.
Jason Johnson, political editor at The Root, is a professor of political science at Morgan State’s School of Global Journalism and Communication and is a frequent guest on MSNBC, CNN, Al-Jazeera International, Fox Business News and SiriusXM Satellite Radio. Follow him on Twitter.