PHILADELPHIA, Pa. -- When Barack Obama spoke at his final Democratic convention as president Wednesday night, it was impossible not to remember the night in 2004 when his first speech to the DNC in Boston launched him onto a lightning-fast path to the White House.
He was just a state senator then, but convention speeches can do that for a person who is able to match his rhetoric to the moment. It happened for Sen. Marco Rubio after he spoke to the Republican National Convention four years ago, and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, who can trace his spot on the short list for vice president this year to the speech he delivered as the mayor of San Antonio to the 2012 DNC.
So as the Republican and Democratic conventions wrapped up this week and last, I was curious to hear who party members and attendees thought had popped out as their parties' rising stars. But instead of long lists of new names, I almost universally got blank stares or extended silences.
"Um, nobody?" one Democrat said to me. Republicans had just about the same answer.
For very different reasons, the conventions featured the faces of the past and present for each party, but the obvious stars of the future were harder to find.
For the Republicans in Cleveland, there were so many no-shows at the convention to nominate Donald Trump that the event became a huge missed opportunity to showcase their best and brightest talents. Neither South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley nor Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval spoke last week at what could be their last moment on the national stage.
New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez stayed away, and so did every member of the Bush family, including George P. Bush, Jeb's son and the land commissioner of Texas who is widely assumed to be the next Bush likely to be a breakout star.
I followed up with several delegates who went to the RNC to see whom they remembered best. No one really stood out, one delegate said to me. Another agreed and added, "I'm sad for our country."
Others worried that if Trump fares poorly in November, he could take out dozens of the party's future leaders with him, whether they went to the Cleveland convention or not.
Democrats in Philadelphia seemed to have the opposite problem. With so many of the party's current generation of leaders and superstars in prime-time spots, from Michelle Obama to Bill Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden and Barack Obama, there was simply too little light or oxygen left over for still-growing talent.
"There just wasn't room for anyone else," a delegate told me. When I asked another who might have emerged as the next Obama, the answer I got back was a shoulder shrug. "There's not much of a bench."
Together, the conventions seemed to both reflect and presage a potential lost generation of political leaders. The Trump factor may already be wiping out opportunities for young Republican leaders, who either don't want to be associated with him or won't have their jobs if he causes major losses down-ballot.
On the Democratic side, the two Obama terms were remembered in Philadelphia as eight years of moving forward on progressive promises, but they also cost Democrats control of the House and Senate and took out dozens of potential stars in the process. Would one of those defeated Democrats have risen to prominence at the DNC? We'll never know.
Of the conventions' speakers who got the most buzz, Ivanka Trump and first lady Michelle Obama stood out as two of the very best. But they were deliberately apolitical speeches from two women who appear to have no interest in going into politics. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker's performance stood out for some Democrats, but even he couldn't nail down one of the highest profile, late-in-the week slots with so many others getting the time.
We don't know yet how November will turn out, but it was easy enough to see this week that we'll have to wait four more years to see what the future is really going to look like for Democrats and Republicans, because we definitely didn't see it at the parties' conventions this year.Roll Call columnist Patricia Murphy covers national politics for The Daily Beast. Previously, she was the Capitol Hill bureau chief for Politics Daily and founder and editor of Citizen Jane Politics. Follow her on Twitter @1PatriciaMurphy.
After a campaign lasting more than a year and taking in all 50 states, Hillary Rodham Clinton has delivered a speech that will go down in history. As the first woman to secure a major party's nomination for president of the United States, her address to the Democratic National Convention was a milestone for women's leadership in the United States and beyond. As she put it: "When any barrier falls in America, for anyone, it clears the way for everyone. When there are no ceilings, the sky's the limit."
Clinton came to the stage under monumental pressure, charged with delivering a historic piece of rhetoric. This was a moment in world history – and it was always destined to be mercilessly dissected.
But as ever, Clinton's popularity (or lack thereof) and the reception of her speech have been colored by criticism of her speaking style. As the conservative website the Daily Wire headlined its reaction piece: "Hillary Accepts Nomination, Immediately Bores Americans Into A Coma Before Startling Them Awake With Her Cackle."
Ever since she entered the national arena in 1992, media commentators have ripped Clinton's vocal delivery apart. It has been described as loud, shrill, grating and harassing. No aspect of her oratory is beyond derision – her laugh is branded "the Clinton cackle," and her speech derided as shouting, screaming and shrieking – inartfully substituting volume for expression.
Many may claim that Clinton isn't one of history's greatest orators, but there's something more insidious going on here.
The criticism that greets her is a classic example of what is called "gender congruence bias." This theory explains that people expect women to act in certain ways – and that if a woman's behavior isn't congruent with expectations of femininity, people won't like or accept her. The double bind that female politicians face is augmented by the deep sense that leadership is a male domain and politics in general is a domain of power – power that we are not culturally comfortable to have women wield.
Presidential candidates, like other high-profile leaders, are expected to be male and to have traditionally socialized masculine attributes. Women who aspire to be high-profile leaders are automatically judged and criticized against these male-biased criteria.
Assertive and rational women are criticized for being too masculine – Clinton has been accused of being overly ambitious and calculating. A high-profile woman who displays gender-congruent emotions may be labelled over-emotional and Clinton has been repeatedly portrayed in the media as witch-like and crazed. Female politicians who are calm, controlled and detached are not praised for gender-neutrality but attacked for not being feminine enough – Clinton has been deemed "robotic" (something she has lately riffed on to great effect).
The pattern behind these sexist distortions and misrepresentations has borne out in a wide spectrum of research, which has found how female politicians are evaluated quite differently from their male counterparts in terms of their speaking style.
One notable difference is the gender expectation that elocution augments men's power, but harms women's. Men are expected to speak and are readily heard, whereas women are traditionally expected to be quiet. When men raise their voices they come off as rousing and gripping, when women raise theirs, they're said to be screaming and grating.
Clinton is of course not alone among female political figures for being lambasted for supposedly poor oratorical skills.
At the beginning of her career, Margaret Thatcher was also criticized for a shrill voice and received vocal training to correct the tone, pitch and tempo of her voice to achieve a more authoritative speaking style. Later in her career, Thatcher's speech was praised for its crispness, softness and firmness of tone – her voice becoming central to her Iron Lady persona.
Angela Merkel, whom the New Yorker hailed as "the quiet German," has been ridiculed for her lack of oratorical charisma, being described as monotone and soporific and about as rousing as watching paint dry.
Looking back, recordings of Clinton delivering her famous graduation address at Wellesley College in 1969 reveal she was astute, eloquent and articulate, not at all the poor orator she's caricatured as today.
Indeed, a prominent executive speech coaching company has praised Clinton for her speaking ability, noting that there is a lot to be learned from her delivery.
What Clinton has accomplished in her speech and mannerisms is a delicate balance. On the one hand, she has hit on the assertiveness she needs to be taken seriously in debate and negotiation; on the other, she has preserved the caring strength essential to achieve and sustain an emotive connection with an audience.
Now that she actually has a chance at becoming the most powerful person in the world, Clinton has become a threat to the gender expectations of people in power the world over. This sort of subtextual risk is just the sort of fodder that the media loves to dish out for the masses.
It's past time for this to stop. The public must stop making political decisions based on Clinton's vocal style and charisma – and the media must stop focusing on her voice and judging her speech against male-biased criteria. Instead, we must all focus on a less sexist, more inclusive and fairer vision for the United States and the world – one that Clinton, more than any other individual leader, is now empowered to make reality.