Hillary, Bill and Obama - a love story?

Jake Turcotte

You expect partisan politics to be bare-knuckle boxing these days. But Night One in Denver was remarkable for the polite way the Democrats treated the Republicans -- when they mentioned their arch-rivals at all.

With Ted Kennedy's inspiring address and Michelle Obama's highly-praised speech, it was a feel-good night.

Tonight, we'll see something different. Maybe.

Former Virginia Governor Mark Warner told reporters on Monday that his speech will focus on bipartisanship, not on McCain.

"There may be parts of the speech that aren't going to get a lot of applause, but I've got to say what I believe will get our country back on the right path," Warner said.

That's led to some high-profile criticism. Paul Begala said, "This isn't the Richmond Chamber of Commerce."

On CNN, James Carville thought the first night was too happy.

"I guarantee on the first night of the Republican Convention, you're going to hear talk about Barack Obama, commander-in-chief, tax cuts, et cetera," Carville said. "You haven't heard about Iraq or John McCain or George W. Bush... If this party has a message it's done a hell of a job hiding it tonight, I promise you that."

Democratic chair Howard Dean, not known for a lollipops, gumdrops, and puppies approach to Republicans, oddly, signaled restraint.

"We don't need to attack McCain" during the convention's opening events, Dean told delegates from Ohio, a battleground state. "There will be plenty of time for that."
It's more important, he said, "to make sure people know who Barack Obama is, who Joe Biden is."

As Monitor colleague Ariel Sabar explained yesterday, the stakes for tonight's speech are high:

If she pleads with the 18 million Americans who voted for her to bury the hatchet and get behind Barack Obama, Democrats may regain the White House. If she signals the slightest ambivalence, enough of her supporters may stay home – or vote for GOP rival John McCain – to cost Democrats the race.

Hillary's other half, former President Bill Clinton, speaks tomorrow night. Something that Monitor colleague Linda Feldmann explains carries its own risks.

But with the Clintons speaking on separate nights, that generates two days of headlines instead of one. And with Clinton speaking the same night as Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, the former president threatens to overshadow Obama’s running mate.

What are we going to see tonight?

Unity is the buzz. We may have received a preview of that message when Senator Clinton spoke to the United Farm Workers constitutional convention this past Sunday.

"I have campaigned with him for more than 16 months, I've debated him, and I've watched," Clinton said. "I've seen his passion and determination, his grit and his grace, and I know that he has lived the American dream. And now it is time for us to have a president again who believes that every person is entitled to be given the chance to fulfill his or her dreams, and that is what Senator Obama will do as our president."

Hillary Clinton's former communications director, Howard Wolfson, said Senator Clinton is OK; it's the former President that the Obama campaign needs to take care of.

"There is still work to do on the Bill Clinton front," writes Wolfson in The New Republic. "He feels like the Obama campaign ran against and systematically dismissed his administration's accomplishments. And he feels like he was painted as a racist during the primary process.
"Senator Obama would go a long way towards healing these wounds if he were to specifically praise the accomplishments of the Clinton presidency in a line or two during his speech on Thursday.
"That should be painless---he isn't running against the Clinton legacy any more, and it would probably be a good idea to remind voters that the last time Democrats were in charge of the White House, we had peace and prosperity."
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