Former President Bill Clinton (photo: ljlandre / flickr)

If the Democratic National Convention showed us anything it’s that when Democrats truly, desperately need to connect with Americans they reach for strong progressive ideas.

When they know, in this post-Citizens-United landscape, that they will be hopelessly outgunned in the 30 second TV soundbite battlefield; when they understand that the media will dilute their strongest points in endless he-said, she-said “balanced” journalism; when they are faced with the only opportunity they will have to speak directly to the electorate in those 3 days from the convention floor – they opt for our ideas, progressive ideas.

This is good news.

Now before I get hammered for any perceived fluffing of the Democratic Party, let me say that I know that’s not how they govern. I also know that they can wrap those progressive ideas in conservative reassurances in areas where the right has been too successful warping the public debate – deficits and military adventuring come to mind.

I’m only taking about the core message here and who has the most powerful one.

That would be us.

Only we haven’t done very well at all articulating it. There are reasons for that, of course. We’re up against a messaging juggernaut on the right. We’re proud cats of the left and don’t herd easily. And, we don’t know our own strength.

It’s that last thing I want to talk about. And I want to talk about it in the context of Bill Clinton’s speech Wednesday evening. Love him or hate him, that was an incredible political speech.

A number of things made it so effective. Hell, you could spend several weeks in a university rhetoric course on that speech. But notice this: It made its case from a position of strength.

Clinton wasn’t cowed. On several occasions he quotes the republicans’ best lines directly and then calmly and wittily rips their premises to shreds. You can only do that if you are supremely confident in the rightness of your own ideas.

Clinton was colloquial. He made his case in everyday talk. If you are totally sure of yourself, and have a deep understanding of your subject, then you can make your case simply and it’ll stick.

Clinton was pointedly detailed. He wasn’t afraid to get into specifics because those specifics had a clear point, they were tied to strong, central premises. Conventional wisdom has it that getting into details is death for political rhetoric. But Clinton shows us that conventional wisdom is wrong when you can connect those details to a central message that is both clear and compelling.

What’s the takeaway for us from Clinton’s talk? It’s this: even if we aren’t the oratorical master that the Big Dog is, we can have confidence in our message and that confidence will serve us well as we talk to our friends and family and in public fora.

As progressives we are grounded. We are steeped in ideas that Americans cherish. We have a leg up on our well-funded opposition – even if that opposition might have convinced us otherwise.

What’s the lesson of the whole DNC for us? It’s this. The majority of Democratic elected officials might be corporatist tools once in office. They might dismiss us as hippies and “retards.” But when the going gets tough, it’s our message that they count on to resonate with the American people.

We cannot trust them to live out that message, to act on it. They will only borrow it when it suits them. We have to act on that message ourselves. Nobody’s going to do it for us. That probably means getting active at the local level – but that’s a topic for another blog post.

For now, know this. We have the winning message – and it’s time we started acting like it.