Bill Clinton's Speech—By the Numbers, Sticking to the Plan

It was a fine performance, but not classic Bill Clinton.


DENVER—Bill Clinton used to make his speechwriters crazy with his willingness and ability to ad lib speeches. When I was writing my book on presidential speechwriters, some told me how they could tell when he was not engaged with a speech text: He would either give it as written or toss it out completely. A Clinton engaged would use the written speech as a starting point or a framework. He would riff, rewrite as he spoke—truly remarkable.

Make of it what you will, but Bill Clinton ad-libbed very little this evening.

That isn't to say he didn't give a good speech. He could have read the phone book with gusto and charm, sending the delegates out of the hall with broad grins. And the speech he did deliver sent the crowd into paroxysms of joy. He got what my colleague Liz Halloran described as the loudest cheers of the week. They were loud enough to create a gentle pressure on the ear-drum (oh Thursday night at Invesco is going to be fun). So it was a fine performance—just not a classic Clinton performance

So far as I could tell, following along on Clinton's prepared text (handed out just as he took the stage), he had one major ad-lib: When he said that "I have the privilege, dear," of speaking as a former Democratic president "thanks to you." The "dear" and "you," of course, being Hillary Clinton.

His best line echoed his childhood hero, John F. Kennedy. Clinton after all was the last Democratic president who was supposed to be the second coming of JFK, and when he said, "People the world over have always been more impressed by the power of our example than by the example of our power," it was a line of which his predecessor would have approved.

By our rough count, Clinton went 10:33 over his allotted time (from where we sit behind the podium, you can see the little red digital countdown clock next to the center TelePrompTer). I had guessed eight minutes over—I lost the pool.