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Madeleine Albright's defense of Clinton's foreign policy was weak on the merits

Democratic National Convention: Day Two (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is one of America’s most respected, most famous elder statespeople. So you’d think her speech on the second night of the Democratic National Convention endorsing Hillary Clinton would be pretty compelling stuff.

But it wasn’t. And that should trouble Democrats.

To get a flavor of the speech, just read this paragraph. Luxuriate in its mediocrity. Bathe in its clichés:

When Hillary served as secretary of state, I watched her partner with President Obama to restore our country's reputation around the world. She fought terrorism, she stopped the spread of nuclear weapons, and promoted diplomacy, defense, development and democracy — smart power -- in every corner of the world. As I travel around the world today, I'm reminded how important it is that the person who represents our nation is trusted by our allies, and who listens more than she talks.

What’s striking is that this is the only part of Albright’s short address that discussed Clinton’s time as America’s chief diplomat. If anyone could be expected to explain what Clinton actually did as secretary of state, it would be the last Democrat to have the job before her. Yet in the above paragraph, Albright didn’t name a single specific thing that Clinton did.

This is deeply weird.

The Republicans just spent the past week bashing Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state — blaming her for everything from the Benghazi attacks to the rise of ISIS to the Syrian civil war. Albright’s speech should have been the beginning of a counter-narrative, in which the Democrats start to make a strong case that Clinton actually made a real, positive impact on the big policy issues.

That didn’t happen, at all.

Albright did praise Clinton’s judgment, listing off some anecdotes about their travels together while they were both in the Clinton White House. She also landed some solid hits on Donald Trump: “Many have argued that Donald would harm our national security if he were elected president. The fact is he has already done damage just by running for president.” (Indeed, with one stray comment, Trump has already damaged the NATO alliance and made a war with Russia incrementally more likely.)

But needling Trump on foreign policy and telling cute stories about eating cabbage in Prague isn’t the same thing as making a detailed case that Hillary Clinton actually has a proven record of success at foreign policy.

The Republicans had a coherent, if false, narrative about Clinton — she set the world on fire. Democrats need a better answer to that than what Madeleine Albright offered. We’ll see if they have one this week.

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