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Hillary Clinton's Convention Balancing Act


And I'm David Greene in Philadelphia where the Democratic National Convention is a wrap.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: The chair will entertain a motion to adjourn this convention. Is there a second? All in favor say aye.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: No say nay. The ayes have it. We are adjourned. Thank you, Philadelphia.

GREENE: Now, all week long here in Philadelphia, we have been listening to delegates at the convention. And yesterday, before Hillary Clinton's big acceptance speech, we asked some what they wanted to hear. Let's take a listen.

ANJAN CHEMALADENA: My name is Anjan Chemaladena (ph). I'm from Chantilly, Va., and I'm a delegate for Hillary Clinton.

GREENE: And what do you hope to hear from her this evening?

CHEMALADENA: I would like to hear how we're going to come together, both Bernie Sanders supporters and Hillary supporters over the next three and a half months because definitely need Bernie Sanders supporters on our side, at least 90 percent of them. So I want to hear a plan for that action.

ANDREA JONES: My name's Andrea Jones (ph). I'm from Sandusky, Ohio. And I really - I want to hear from Hillary, you know, not the usual political rhetoric. You know, I am her delegate, but I really think it's important that she says a message that transcends what, you know, is normally ascribed to Democrats. You know, I think the president last night sounded real Reagan-esque (ph) if that's a word. And I think that's a message that needs to resonate throughout our party.

GREENE: You like the - you like the sound of that.

JONES: Oh, absolutely, I mean, because my father's a pastor, so there are some conservative values that I just innately have. And there are plenty of people within our party that have them. You know, you can be for affirmative action and be pro-life. It's possible.

TIM BUTTS: So I'm Tim Butts (ph), Houston, Texas. I hope to hear a game plan to beat Donald Trump, collaboration of the party coming together, the energy that came from the Bernie group, the battle for all of us in this room to move forward and do together.

GREENE: But that kind of lofty language - I mean, if it's we need to move together from this building as one, I mean, that would send a message to you as a Bernie Sanders supporter, OK, she does want to bring us in.

BUTTS: If it's a matter of we should move together or we would love to move together, yes. If it's a matter of you need to come over here and work with us, that's an entirely different piece of language.

SUSAN BARRETT: OK. Susan Barrett (ph).

GREENE: Where are you from?

BARRETT: Fairfield, Conn., and tonight, I hope to hear Hillary's vision for all of us because she's into the we approach to this whole thing, and we're in this together. We're invested together. Is that Chris Matthews? Chris, I - excuse me.

GREENE: Yup, that's right, Chris Matthews from MSNBC walked by and my interview was over. All right, but that would not happen to my colleague Mara Liasson. She was at the convention hall as well, and she has this recap.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: For a convention that started with efforts to placate Bernie Sanders supporters, it ended with Democrats opening their arms wide to Republicans and independents.



LIASSON: Last night, as the crowd waved big American flags and chanted USA, USA, retired Marine General John B. Allen delivered the kind of muscular speech that used to be a staple at Republican conventions.


JOHN ALLEN: To our enemies, we will pursue you as only America can. You will fear us. And to ISIS and others, we will defeat you.

LIASSON: The Democrats took every opening that Trump's divisive rhetoric offered them. There was a former Reagan administration official on stage, as well as families of slain police officers. Yesterday, at the very moment Donald Trump was in Iowa lamenting that the U.S. no longer waterboarded terrorists, the father of a Muslim American Army captain killed in Iraq was at the podium brandishing his pocket copy of the Constitution. In her speech, Hillary Clinton described the election as a stark, almost existential choice.


HILLARY CLINTON: Now America is once again at a moment of reckoning. Powerful forces are threatening to pull us apart. Bonds of trust and respect are fraying. And just as with our founders, there are no guarantees. It truly is up to us. We have to decide whether we will all work together so we can all rise together.

LIASSON: Clinton offered an optimistic, confident vision, an alternative to what she called Trump's midnight in America pessimism.


CLINTON: Don't let anyone tell you that our country is weak. We're not. Don't let anyone tell you we don't have what it takes. We do. And most of all, don't believe anyone who says I alone can fix it.

LIASSON: In contrast to Trump's description of a country consumed by fear, she told stories of communities coming together to fight violence.


CLINTON: Look at what happened in Dallas. After the assassinations of five brave police officers, Police Chief David Brown asked the community to support his force, maybe even join them. And do you know how the community responded? Nearly 500 people applied in just 12 days.

LIASSON: Clinton had two big jobs to do - she had to take down Trump and reintroduce herself to a public who now views her as unfavorably as they do Donald Trump. She didn't reveal anything new about herself that might make it easier for voters to relate to her. But she did offer a tiny bit of introspection.


CLINTON: The truth is through all these years of public service, the service part has always come easier to me than the public part. I get it, that some people just don't know what to make of me.

LIASSON: She tried to strike a balance between praising the progress of the Obama administration and acknowledging that many voters are not satisfied with the status quo.


CLINTON: And I've heard from many who feel like the economy sure isn't working for them. Some of you are frustrated, even furious. And you know what? You're right.

LIASSON: She offered a summary of her plans for affordable college, criminal justice reform, health care and gun control.


CLINTON: I'm not here to take away your guns. I just don't want you to be shot by someone who shouldn't have a gun in the first place.

LIASSON: But she kept coming back to the notion that Donald Trump was temperamentally unfit to keep the country safe.


CLINTON: I can't put it any better than Jackie Kennedy did after the Cuban missile crisis. She said that what worried President Kennedy during that very dangerous time was that a war might be started, not by big men with self-control and restraint but by little men, the ones moved by fear and pride.

LIASSON: American strength, she said, doesn't come from lashing out.


CLINTON: It relies on smarts, judgment, cool resolve and the precise and strategic application of power. And that's the kind of commander in chief I pledge to be.

LIASSON: Hillary Clinton was asking Americans to trust her, to be level headed and steady.

GREENE: All right. That was NPR's Mara Liasson. I'm joined in the studio here in Philadelphia by NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea and also Janet Hook, who covers national politics for The Wall Street Journal. Good morning to you both.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Good morning.

JANET HOOK: Good morning.

GREENE: So we heard there from Mara the two goals challenges for Hillary Clinton. One, take down Donald Trump; two, reintroduce herself. I suppose it's safe to say that was the goal of this week for the Democrats. I mean, Janet, did - what went right, what went wrong here for them?

HOOK: Well, one of the things that went right for them was actually a third goal, kind of the foundation - the foundational goal they had was to unify the party. And what went right for them was how dramatically they managed to turn around a big problem they had with unity at the beginning of the week when...

GREENE: You saw these dramatic moments with Bernie Sanders.

HOOK: Dramatic moments with Bernie Sanders supporters. There was this real sense that the wheels were coming off of the party. And by the next day, things had really come together. It was like the convention had a personality transplant. It went from being really fractious to be - kind of coming together.

I mean, part of it was of course that some of Bernie Sanders' supporters walked out, but they also kind of orchestrated a reunification of the party that was really pretty impressive so that by the end - now, granted though, there were still residual - and this is one thing that you don't know going forward how much the residual divisions remain. During Hillary Clinton's speech, you actually did hear Bernie Sanders supporters heckling from the rafters.

GREENE: Which is a little bit of what went wrong, I guess, a bit last night...

HOOK: A little bit of what went wrong. And, you know, the other thing that I'm not sure that they accomplished so much was kind of redefining Hillary Clinton or making her more approachable or accessible. One thing that voters right now are looking for is an authentic voice. And, you know, that was a good speech that Hillary Clinton gave, but for people who think that politicians sound like politicians, she kind of still sounded very scripted.


GONYEA: In terms of what went right, they really wanted to create a huge contrast with what we saw in Cleveland last week. That was a very dark, kind of intensely negative event last week. And they wanted this to be more positive, more upbeat. I think it was related to that. They trolled Donald Trump pretty effectively. They did it in a playful way, sometimes in a very direct way. But they did it without the sort of, you know, lock her up stuff that we saw last week.

The other side of it, I think, is more questions that remain at this point. You know, a lot of big set-piece speeches, we don't know in this year, in this climate, with voters' heads where they are if those kind of speeches work or if people even pay attention.

GREENE: All right. I guess we'll be finding out in the weeks ahead. Janet Hook, Don Gonyea, thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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