Bill Clinton’s Use of Facts to Make His Case

Ryan Lizza wrote about the relationship between Bill Clinton and Barack Obama in this week’s New Yorker. Among other things, it gives this description of Clinton’s defense of Obama at a fundraiser hosted at Terry McAuliffe’s house:

Clinton started his remarks with a humorous appreciation of McAuliffe, a fervid Democratic partisan. “I love poor Terry McAuliffe,” Clinton said. “He’s so laid back and repressed; he just can’t express himself. I worry about him. But, I tell you what, if we had a hundred more like him we wouldn’t lose as many elections.” When it came to Obama, Clinton had some facts to convey. He told the donors that he hoped they would remember them and pass them along to their friends. That it takes ten years to recover from a financial crisis rooted in a housing collapse, and, by that historical standard, Obama was “beating the clock, not behind it.” That Obama’s stimulus plan had shaved two points off the unemployment rate. That Obama’s restructuring of the auto industry had saved one and a half million jobs. That Obama’s health-care law will bring consumers and employers $1.3 billion in refunds from insurance companies.

This, while not a full direct quote from Clinton, encapsulates part of what makes him such a good speaker. He’s always specific and quantitative, using numbers to back up his claims. He doesn’t just rely on blanket assertions and aspirational promises. Like any politician, his facts can be selective and don’t always tell the whole story. As a form of political salesmanship, though, this technique is extremely powerful. It elevates the listener to a peer, and engages his intellect rather than relying on pure emotion. It also makes an argument seem damn persuasive.

Compare the typical Obama blanket assertion that the stimulus saved us from another depression, or Clinton’s framing “that Obama’s stimulus plan had shaved two points off the unemployment rate.” Which is more convincing? And which is harder to rebut? The answer is obvious.