×

Three reasons why Bill Clinton shouldn't speak at the Democratic convention

Bill Clinton speaking at the 2015 CGI Annual Meeting in New York.
Adam Jeffery | CNBC
Bill Clinton speaking at the 2015 CGI Annual Meeting in New York.

Former President and "First Dude" wannabe Bill Clinton will be the marquee speaker at the Democratic National Convention on Tuesday night. But if the Democrats were smart, he wouldn't be on the speaking schedule at all.

Sure, a man who won two presidential elections rather comfortably and is still the most successful Democratic presidential candidate of the last 50 years would usually be a no-brainer as a keynote speaker. But here are three important reasons Mr. Clinton should stay in the VIP box:

1. The Democratic Party has passed him by. Bill Clinton ended a streak of three straight presidential election blowouts for the Democrats and even weathered an impeachment trial to finish his second term riding some of his strongest approval ratings of his political career. But so much for gratitude because so many of Clinton's signature achievements as president have been either ignored, trashed, or downright demonized by Democratic Party leaders and the rank and file over the past eight years.

Bill Clinton's economic policies, especially his Wall Street boom-inducing support for repealing the Glass Steagall Act and his support for NAFTA, have been attacked fiercely and successfully by the rising progressive wing of the party best represented by Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. His welfare-reform deal with then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich and the Republicans, which was hailed at the time as bipartisan progress, was mostly gutted by the Obama administration's push to increase the welfare rolls. And his anti-crime efforts, including his support for the death penalty, new funding to increase police on the streets, and the "three strikes and you're out" rule in federal sentencing have been attacked by today's Democrats and liberal activists like "Black Lives Matter" as part of a brutally racist agenda to subjugate the African American community.

Not every one of the Democratic Party leaders, candidates, or activists who have attacked Clinton's policies have called him out by name, but some have and it hasn't been pretty. The result is that if President Clinton wants to speak glowingly of his own record in the White House, he will have to do it in the kind of general and ineffective terms that make speeches go bad fast.

2. He's not the best choice to humanize Hillary. A major priority for both parties from now until election day is to make their highly disliked nominees more likable. If the Republicans had any success at doing that for Donald Trump during their convention last week, the Trump children were entirely responsible.

The Democrats are hoping Chelsea Clinton will have some of the same success Thursday night when she officially introduces her mom. But Bill Clinton will have a very tough time getting the public to believe any tender or humanizing stories about a woman he has so regularly been caught betraying in affair after affair. Sure, most Clinton supporters are fine with the professional arrangement Bill and Hillary have clearly worked out over the years. But it's the opposite of the kind of human-like behavior and emotional warmth the rest of us strive for in our marriages and personal relationships.

And, even if Bill could pull off a convincing narrative about how warm and fuzzy Hillary is, isn't doing that job a heck of a comedown for the 42nd President of the United States? Will he be reduced to talking about how Hillary cared for baby Chelsea while he was out… er, working? Is it right to ask him to discuss instances of Hillary's personal compassion or vulnerability? The best way to make a former leader of the free world sound like a tired old used car salesman is to ask him to peddle in trivialities and empty character myths. So why bother?

3. He could outshine the nominee. Let's say Bill Clinton is working with the best speechwriters, resists his propensity to speak too long, and delivers the address to end all addresses on Tuesday night. Great, right?

Actually, not so great. In the end, Hillary Clinton must close the deal with the American voters herself at this convention during her own crucial speech on Thursday night. And while Senators Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker, along with First Lady Michelle Obama seem to have done a lot to unify and electrify the fractured convention delegates on Monday, they also set the bar of accomplishment a little higher for the actual nominee in her much more important speech.

And, all of this is before President Obama speaks to the convention. His speech will come less than 24 hours before Hillary Clinton speaks, which will surely set up a series of comparisons between the president and current nominee that will leave Hillary Clinton in a relatively less favorable light.

All of that is bad enough. But if Hillary Clinton is overshadowed even for a day or two by Bill's performance on Tuesday, that could be a lethal scenario. It seems like it would be a lot better to have the former president simply stand by her side and prove that he's so confident of her abilities as a speaker and a leader that he doesn't even think he needs to speak formally on her behalf at the convention at all.

Sometimes it's the things we don't say that are more valuable than what we do actually say. And in the case of Bill Clinton at the Democratic convention, silence could be golden.

Commentary by Jake Novak, supervising producer of "Power Lunch." Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.