The Hillary Clinton DNC speech: more hope and a bit more substance

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton gives her thumbs up as she appears on stage during the final day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Thursday, July 28, 2016. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Photo: AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

Today, I deconstruct Hillary Clinton’s convention speech, just as I did last week with Donald Trump. Clinton is much more about hope, compared to Trump, who emphasized fear. And her speech featured more real policy, but not by much.

One thing I’ve learned from this exercise is how challenging it is to understand a political speech by taking it apart. It’s like trying to understand how a body works by dissecting it — you can’t see how the parts all work together. Even so, I think it’s a worthwhile exercise, because it draws some interesting contrasts between the candidates. One thing is clear: Hillary Clinton is an optimist about Washington, while Donald Trump is a pessimist.

As with Trump’s speech, I used the Washington Post’s transcript and color coded it, separating out elements like critiques of Trump, vague promises, and personal stories. Here’s what I found.

Hillary Clinton spent a lot of time thanking people

The first 8% of Clinton’s speech, 406 words, consisted of her recapping what happened during the convention before she got up there, including thanking people like President Obama, her husband, and her daughter. This was quite a contrast to Donald Trump, who said thank you only once, to “the evangelical community.”

Clinton made slightly more specific promises than Trump

Trump’s speech was only 8% policy pledges. Clinton’s was 10%, or 546 words out of 5389. Clinton concentrated most of these promises at the end of the speech, making them far easier to pick out. It’s notable that most of Trump’s promises begin with “I,” while Clinton’s are much more likely to include “we” or “join us.”

[W]e’ll build a path to citizenship for millions of immigrants who are already contributing to our economy.

We will not ban a religion.

[W]e need to appoint Supreme Court justices who will get money out of politics and expand voting rights, not restrict them.

And if necessary, we will pass a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United!

I believe that when we have millions of hardworking immigrants contributing to our economy, it would be self-defeating and inhumane to try to kick them out.

Comprehensive immigration reform will grow our economy and keep families together. And it’s the right thing to do.

If you believe the minimum wage should be a living wage and no one working full time should have to raise their children in poverty, join us!

If you believe that we should say no to unfair trade deals, that we should stand up to China, that we should support our steelworkers and autoworkers and home-grown manufacturers, then join us!

If you believe we should expand Social Security and protect a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions, then join us!

And yes, yes, if you believe that your working mother, wife, sister or daughter deserves equal pay, join us!

In my first 100 days, we will work with both parties to pass the biggest investment in new, good-paying jobs since World War II. Jobs in manufacturing, clean energy, technology and innovation, small business and infrastructure. If we invest in infrastructure now, we’ll not only create jobs today, but lay the foundation for the jobs of the future. And we will also transform the way we prepare our young people for those jobs.

Bernie Sanders and I will work together to make college tuition free for the middle class and debt free for all.

We will give small businesses, like my dad’s, a boost, make it easier to get credit. Way too many dreams die in the parking lots of banks. In America, if you can dream it you should be able to build it.

Now, we’re not only going to make all of these investments, we’re going to pay for every single one of them. And here’s how: Wall Street, corporations and the super rich are going to start paying their fair share of taxes.

And if companies take tax breaks and then ship jobs overseas, we’ll make them pay us back and we’ll put that money to work where it belongs, creating jobs here at home.

I’m proud that we shaped a global climate agreement. Now we have to hold every country accountable to their commitments, including ourselves.

And I’m proud to stand by our allies in NATO against any threat they face, including from Russia.

I’ve laid out my strategy for defeating ISIS. We will strike their sanctuaries from the air and support local forces taking them out on the ground. We will surge our intelligence so we detect and prevent attacks before they happen. We will disrupt their efforts online to reach and radicalize young people in our country.

We will work tirelessly with responsible gun owners to pass common sense reforms and keep guns out of the hands of criminals, terrorists and all others who would do us harm.

There are lots of vague promises, too

As in Trump’s speech, there are a lot of platitudes and generalities. But unlike Trump, Clinton presents none of them in the passive voice.

It truly is up to us. We have to decide whether we will all work together so we can all rise together.

[W]e will build an economy where everyone who wants a good job can get one.

We will work with all Americans and our allies to fight and defeat terrorism.

My primary mission as president will be to create more opportunity and more good jobs with rising wages right here in the United States.

I believe American corporations that have gotten so much from our country should be just as patriotic in return. Many of them are, but too many aren’t. It’s wrong to take tax breaks with one hand and give out pink slips with the other.

I believe in science! . . . I believe climate change is real and that we can save our planet while creating millions of good-paying, clean-energy jobs.

Hillary Clinton spent less time criticizing than Trump

The Boston Globe says that Trump’s speech had 187% more attacks. I found the same, but there’s still plenty of anti-Trump rhetoric in Clinton’s speech.

Now, you didn’t hear any of this, did you, from Donald Trump at his convention? He spoke for 70-odd minutes, and I do mean odd…and he offered zero solutions.

It’s just not right that Donald Trump can ignore his debts and students and families can’t refinance their debts.

Well, let’s take a closer look, shall we? In Atlantic City, 60 miles from here, you will find contractors and small businesses who lost everything because Donald Trump refused to pay his bills. . . .But think of this. People who did the work and needed the money, not because he couldn’t pay them, but because he wouldn’t pay them. He just stiffed them. And you know that sales pitch he’s making to be president, put your faith in him and you’ll win big? That’s the same sales pitch he made to all those small businesses. Then Trump walked away and left working people holding the bag.

He also talks a big game about putting America first. Well, please explain what part of “America first” leads him to make Trump ties in China, not Colorado, Trump suits in Mexico, not Michigan, Trump furniture in Turkey, not Ohio, Trump picture frames in India, not Wisconsin? . . . Donald Trump says he wants to make America great again. Well, he could start by actually making things in America again.

A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons!

Clinton is hopeful, while Trump spreads fear

Clinton’s speech was more full of hope for the future, while Trump’s speech was about fear. In the color-coded graphic below, hope is green, and fear is red. (Yellow is policy, blue is promises, magenta is criticism, and orange is stories.

Clinton speech complete

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  1. Thank you for the breakdown. I perservered with Trump’s speech for about 30mins but had to turn it off — felt as if I was being hectored and couldn’t follow what he was saying. It made me think of a time I was stuck in a meeting with a particularly dominating manager: no-one was prepared to speak up for fear of being humiliated.
    I did watch all of Clinton’s — felt as if I was being led by the hand, and the way she built her pitch seemed more as if she was telling a story.
    Her references to history, e.g. the American Revolution and Franklin D Roosevelt also seemed to be saying ‘we’ve faced worse…we can face this’
    I’ve just heard commentators (Australian TV) saying more people Googled ‘how to vote’ during Clinton’s speech than Trump’s.