Charlotte, N.C. — Bill Clinton, the former president that many Democrats freely admit they admire most, gave a spellbinding speech Wednesday night that hailed a president he said is “committed to cooperation” and denounced the “faction that now controls the [Republican] Party.”
He played three roles: He was at once the Democrats’ éminence grise of politics, the expert on all matters economic, and the wily attack dog. His own arithmetic and characterizations, some eyebrow-raisers, will be ample grist for the fact checkers. But overall, he delivered a powerful performance for the Obama campaign.
“President Clinton represents the gold standard for many voters,” former Michigan Gov. James Blanchard told Human Events shortly before the 39th President addressed the Democratic National Convention Wednesday night. “He’ll lay out the strategy we need to follow to win and it will be positive.”
Clinton focused almost solely on economic policy, and in a speech that was reminiscent of his State of the Union addresses, he walked through a laundry list of issues, causes and potential solutions. He emphasized reaching across the aisle, and he tried to make that mantle fit Barack Obama as well.
“Heck, he even appointed Hillary!”, said Clinton, citing his wife’s appointment as secretary of state by her ’08 nomination foe and Obama’s naming of Republicans to his Administration.
Ostensibly on the convention program to place Obama’s name in nomination for a second term, the last Democratic president drew a hero’s welcome. A bit more gaunt, his voice a bit raspier, the 66-year-old Clinton set aside the earlier worries of some he would talk more about himself and his presidency than Obama.
“I want to nominate a man who is cool on the outside, but burns for America on the inside,” said Clinton to wild cheers.
Ever the charmer and aware of his audience, Clinton said “after last night, I want to nominate a man who had the good sense to marry Michelle Obama.”
The old partisan took a whack at the Republicans, saying ‘we think ‘we’re all in this together’ is a better philosophy than ‘you’re on your own.'”
But Clinton quickly detoured into bipartisanship, saying that while he disagreed with Republicans, “I never learned to hate them the way the far right that now controls their party seems to hate President Obama and the Democrats.” He invoked his own work on issues with Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush and praised both Presidents Bush for their work with him on recovery efforts for Hurricane Katrina and the Haitian earthquake.
In what is likely to be part of the strategy Blanchard envisioned Clinton would spell out, the former president decried “the faction that now dominates the Republican Party” and-departing from his text at this point-he noted that Republicans defeated for renomination two U.S. Senators who had tried to work with President Obama. (It wasn’t clear whether Clinton meant this year, when only one GOP senator, Richard Lugar of Indiana lost renomination, or was referring to the 2010 as well, when Utah’s Sen. Bob Bennett lost renomination).
He laid an argument that things are better in the job market and the economy is beginning to recover, saying the score on job creation is “President Obama plus 4.5 million, Congressional Republicans zero.”
“Are you listening in Michigan and Ohio?” said Clinton.
To no one’s surprise, Clinton was in no way brief in his remarks. He went on for nearly an hour, defending Obama on issues ranging from health care to whether he was trying to weaken the welfare reform legislation signed into law by Clinton himself. For someone who spiced his speech with facts and figures and details, Clinton was surprisingly vague on the welfare charges against Obama. He simply said: “When some Republican governors asked to try new ways to put people on welfare back to work, the Obama Administration said they would only do it if they had a credible plan to increase employment by 20 percent. You hear that? More work. So the claim that President Obama weakened welfare reform’s work requirement is just not true.”
Painting a grim picture of what Republicans would do on the economy if elected this fall, Clinton finally did invoke his own record saying “Republican economic policies quadrupled the debt before I took office and doubled it after I left. We simply can’t afford double-down or trickle down.”
Friends of Clinton such as former Govs. Blanchard and Gray Davis told us earlier that, following his address, Clinton should be used extensively in the campaign, particularly in industrial swing states such as Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. After Clinton???s address Wednesday, one is unlikely to find anyone in Charlotte or in the Democratic Party who is disappointed with Clinton and the active role he will likely play in Obama’s campaign in the weeks to come.