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On Historic Night, Hillary Clinton Favors Pragmatism Over Flair

In an historic election year, Hillary Clinton’s speech accepting her party’s nomination on the final night of the DNC hued to convention.
Image: Hillary Clinton
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton takes the stage to give her acceptance speech during the final day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Thursday, July 28, 2016.Paul Sancya / AP

PHILADELPHIA — On a historic night in a revolutionary election year, Hillary Clinton delivered an unadventurous but commanding speech to accept her party’s nomination and close out the Democratic National Convention.

There’s nothing subversive about the former secretary of state, aside from her gender. So instead of reinventing the wheel, Clinton exceeded expectations by being her best: Forceful, cogent and clear.

Clinton's salesmen this week, including two of the most gifted orators in American history — who also happen to be her husband, Bill Clinton, and former boss, Barack Obama — set an extremely high bar, especially for someone often seen as uninspiring.

Hillary Clinton delivered an argument for her candidacy that kept coming back to her campaign’s simple theme: that progress requires shared sacrifice, in contrast to Donald Trump’s claim that "I alone can fix it."

"Tonight, we've reached a milestone in our nation's march toward a more perfect union: the first time that a major party has nominated a woman for President," Clinton said as the crowd swelled. "Standing here as my mother's daughter, and my daughter's mother, I'm so happy this day has come."

The "stronger together" theme helped Clinton reach out to embrace Bernie Sanders supporters with one arm and Republicans wary of Donald Trump with the other. She leaned on her Methodist faith and the iconography of martial patriotism to seamlessly marry a progressive agenda with small-c conservative values.

"Whatever party you belong to, or if you belong to no party at all, if you share these beliefs, this is your campaign," she said. "I will be a President for Democrats, Republicans, and Independents."

Her inclusive vision of America — and there was a vision for perhaps the first time in this convention — left little room for Donald Trump’s "bigotry and bombast."

Related: Fact-Checking Hillary Clinton's Speech

A planned mass walkout of Sanders delegates never seemed to materialize, though a few dozen did leave and some protesters were removed from the venue. Most others stood quietly in protest.

They wore neon yellow shirts to increase their visibility on camera. It succeeded, but had the unintended consequence of revealing clearly how few their numbers really were.

"I want to thank Bernie Sanders," Clinton said. "You've put economic and social justice issues front and center, where they belong.

Of the party platform both their campaigns wrote, Clinton said, "now let's go out there and make it happen together."

For historical foundation, Clinton did not need to reach far, with Independence Hall just a few miles away from where she spoke.

Clinton told the story of how the bitterly divided representatives of 13 independent colonies came together to realize that they were, yes, stronger together.

And the story of how Clinton stood up to a childhood bully was told twice during the night. The only detail left out was the fact that Clinton punched the bully back.

In case the point was lost, a video mashed up Trump with famous bullies from film and television. "A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man you can trust with nuclear weapons," Clinton said of Trump.

Meanwhile Clinton, known for guarding a zone of privacy around her, was unusually candid.

"I get it that some people just don't know what to make of me," Clinton said. "My job titles only tell you what I've done. They don't tell you why."

"The truth is, through all these years of public service, the ‘service’ part has always come easier to me than the ‘public’ part," she said, before saying she’s driven by the Methodist motto: "Do all the good you can."

Clinton would be the least popular major party nominee in polling history were it not for Trump’s even worse ratings. And most of Americans say they do not trust her. So a tear-down-and-rebuild approach makes sense, but will take time. Clinton laid the foundation tonight on what will be a long process.

She was also self-critical about her party at a time when Trump has galvanized blue-collar workers who feel left behind.

"Democrats are the party of working people. But we haven't done a good enough job showing that we get what you're going through, and that we're going to do something about it," Clinton said.

Clinton spent more than six weeks working on the speech, according to aides, with her top speechwriter traveling with her on recent trips to field ideas whenever inspiration struck.

The closing night of the convention brought together many of the themes developed over the previous three nights.

In a remarkable inversion of the traditional partisan role, the Democratic convention featured stronger military themes than the Republican one, with retired Marine General John Allen leading a procession of veterans as a snare drum rolled and flags waved.

The final night lacked the name-brand firepower of the previous ones, but brought emotional punch with personal stories from immigrant service members and the first transgender speaker at a major party’s nominating convention.

Khizr Khan, a Muslim man whose son was as killed in Iraq while serving as a captain in the Army testified that "Hillary Clinton was right when she called my son ‘the best of America. If it was up to Donald Trump, he never would have been in America."

There was still some starpower, however, including a speech by actress Chloe Grace Moretz and a performance from perennial Clinton entertainer Katy Perry.

"I'm Michael Jordan, and I'm here with Hillary," said basketball player Kareem Abdul Jabbar. "I said that because I know that Donald Trump couldn't tell the difference."

With just over 100 days until the November election, Clinton will hold a rally Friday in Philadelphia to officially begin the complicated task of wooing aggrieved Bernie Sanders supporters on her left and Republicans who can’t support Trump on her right.