HRC delivered a major policy address yesterday on criminal justice reform. I liked the content; many of you will not. That's not what concerns me here. The speech surprises me because it demonstrates a better grasp of the formal requirements of a campaign oration than I ever saw her display in 2008. Is our Hillary learning? Yes. Let me count the ways.
1) A simple, straightforward harms, inherency, solution structure. Bad things are happening, they flow from a lack of trust, here are a couple of ideas that would both rebuild trust and make material change. Boom. When she spoke on the Bear Stearns collapse and the economy in 2008, I believe she offered a 78 part solution. I am barely exaggerating.
2) Parallel structure. She establishes the need to speak through anaphora--"yet again, the family.., yet again...yet again," reminding us of the killings now so hauntingly familiar, from Ferguson to Baltimore, over the past months. The structure links them, formally establishing these not as random occurrences, but as a pattern, implicitly creating the need for a policy response.
That is followed by another anaphora organized around, "There is something wrong.." Here, Clinton takes advantage of the complementary qualities of examples and statistics. Examples are psychologically powerful and, strung together as I note above, make a profound emotional impact. But a series of them suggest a pattern and Clinton's subsequent anaphora uses statistical evidence to prove the wide inherent disparities between black and white in the American criminal justice system.
The examples move her audience; the statistics convince her audience. America, we have a problem.
3) She sees the problem due to her personal commitment and life experiences. Campaign speeches are different from other addresses because ethos--character--does not support the persuasive claim (believe x because I am y) but is the thesis--Vote for me. HRC begins by identifying with the audience in this urban university (Columbia), praises former NYC Mayor David Dinkins (the occasion is for him), recounts her long history with him, happily notes the panel discussion that will follow, and moves into the body. She is of this issue. After that, she expresses her pain as a mother and a grandmother, notes that she first learned about these inequities "as a young attorney just out of law school" when she worked "for the Children's Defense Fund" and studied "the problem then of youth, teenagers, sometimes preteens, incarcerated in adult jails." She was then director of "the University of Arkansas School of Law's legal aid clinic [and] advocated on behalf of prison inmates and poor families." She sponsored legislation as a Senator. She's no Hillary come lately. She has lived this issue.
4) God terms. "growing bipartisan commonsense solutions." Who's going to hate those? "Smart strategies," "families," "best practices," on and on.
5) Ritualistic disparagement of rhetoric: "Now of course it is not enough just to agree and give speeches about it--we actually have to work together to get the job done." The world will little note what she says here, but will long remember what they do together. She will get the job done.
6) Startling stats and analogies that people will remember--from a front page article in USA Today (yes, our Hil was doing her research, cares about the issue): "At a conference in 2013 at Johns Hopkins University, Vice Provost Jonathan Bagger pointed out that only six miles separate the Baltimore neighborhoods of Roland Park and Hollins Market. But there is a 20 year difference in the average life expectancy." Yowza. Great way to make disparities of all sorts concrete in one horrible analogy/statistic.
7) She nicely builds on but surpasses Obama's efforts. That's the relationship she wants to draw. So, she consistently says something like he's proposed money for, which is great, and we can expand that by...He has led the way by, and I hope to....The linking phrases are occasionally a bit obvious but they craft a useful relationship: She is the next natural step.
8) Nice close. Two more parallel structures, a quotation from Dinkins, the honoree, and a request to pray for Freddie Gray and all those hurt.
This is nothing like the defensive, massively overly detailed, policy wonk addresses I saw so often in 2008. This is a confident, clear campaign oration that establishes her as the person to address this issue. I don't want to speak too soon, but she finally may understand the genre that makes presidents.