Bill Clinton said President Barack Obama deserves re-election because he contained the economic crisis and put the nation on a path to recovery, casting the 2012 election as a choice between “shared opportunities and shared responsibility” and a “winner-take-all, you’re-on-your- own society.”
Clinton, 66, praised Obama’s commitment to “constructive cooperation” and described him as a man who is “cool on the outside, but who burns for America on the inside.”
The former president used a 48-minute address before the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, last night to deliver a rebuttal of criticisms leveled at Obama by challenger Mitt Romney and his running mate during last week’s Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida -- at one point saying it “takes some brass” for Obama’s partisan adversaries to lob some of their attacks.
“Nobody’s right all the time and a broken clock is right twice a day,” Clinton said. “We’re compelled to spend our fleeting lives between those two extremes.”
“The faction that now dominates the Republican Party doesn’t see it that way. They think government is always the enemy, they’re always right and compromise is weakness.”
The address mesmerized the partisan crowd, yet was directed beyond the arena floor. Clinton’s embrace of bipartisanship was aimed at independent voters, a celebration of the auto industry’s revival was targeted at industrial swing states, and an attack on Republican Medicare proposals was directed at senior voters.
“A forceful and flawless delivery that smacked of genuine conviction that Obama’s policies have been successful,” said Costas Panagopoulos, director of the Center for Electoral Politics and Democracy at Fordham University in New York.
The speech will play well among independent and working- class voters in Ohio, a key battleground state, because Clinton “just cut through all the nonsense,” said U.S. Representative Tim Ryan of the Youngstown area, a Democratic stronghold. “It’s going to hit home,” Ryan said. “He gave Obama a ton of street cred.”
In a moment of stagecraft aimed at transferring the benefit of Clinton’s popularity -- his favorability rating was 69 percent in a USA Today/Gallup survey last month -- to Obama, the sitting president joined the ex-president on stage in Time Warner Cable Arena. The men embraced as the speakers blared Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down.” Obama, 51, will accept the nomination tonight.
“The Republican argument against the president’s re- election was actually pretty simple, pretty snappy. It went something like this: ‘We left him a total mess, he hasn’t cleaned it up fast enough, so fire him and put us back in,’” said Clinton, who is the first ex-president to nominate a sitting president for re-election. “I like the argument for President Obama’s re-election a lot better.”
Clinton tapped his broad appeal and Americans’ nostalgia for the federal surplus and stock gains of his tenure to argue that Obama’s policies mirror his own and are steering the U.S. to better days. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index more than tripled during his two terms, to 1342.55 on January 19, 2001, from 433.37 on January 20, 1993.
Clinton said while Obama’s economic policies are working, Americans don’t feel it yet. “I had this same thing happen in 1994 and early ’95,” Clinton said, although by 1996, he said, the economy was “roaring, everybody felt it, and we were halfway through the longest peacetime expansion in American history.”
Obama, Clinton said, had started with a much weaker economy than he. “Listen to me,” Clinton said. “No president, not me, not any of my predecessors, no one could have fully repaired all the damage that he found in just four years.” Obama “has laid the foundations for a new, modern, successful economy of shared prosperity.”
Clinton credited Obama for saving a million auto industry jobs, making the U.S. more energy independent, increasing college affordability and expanding health-care coverage for millions.
He said in the last 29 months the economy produced about 4.5 million private sector jobs: “President Obama -- plus 4.5 million. Congressional Republicans -- ze-ro.” He said another “jobs score” was 250,000 auto industry jobs for Obama, and “ze-ro” for Romney, who opposed the industry bailout.
From jobs to energy policy to health care to the national debt, Clinton offered a sweeping defense of the Obama administration’s leadership over the last four years, contrasting it with sometimes biting assessments of the Republican opposition.
Clinton recalled Romney running mate Paul Ryan’s accusation during last week’s Republican convention that Obama’s plan to cut $716 billion from Medicare vendor and provider fees was the “biggest, coldest power play” in raiding the health program for seniors.
“I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry,” Clinton said, because it was “exactly to the dollar the same amount of Medicare savings” that Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman from Wisconsin, proposed in his own budget. “It takes some brass to attack a guy for doing what you did.”
Clinton’s convention speech represents a potential new opening for Obama among white, working-class voters -- those in nonprofessional occupations who lack college degrees -- who polls show hold a more favorable view of Clinton.
“Bill Clinton was born into a poor, white family in a small town,” said William A. Galston, a former Clinton deputy domestic policy adviser. “There’s nothing in Obama’s background that has given him anything like the visceral understanding of that slice of America that Bill Clinton has in his bones, just because he grew up with it.”
It also is the culmination of a journey back -- his third - - back to the center of the political stage for the global activist, former Arkansas governor and self-declared “Comeback Kid.”
In 1992, after his Iowa caucus loss and second-place finish in New Hampshire, Clinton came from behind to win his party’s nomination and the presidency. After Clinton’s 1998 House impeachment for alleged perjury in the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal investigation, Vice President Al Gore kept him at arm’s length when he was the party’s nominee in the 2000 presidential race.
Four years ago, Clinton’s popularity dipped after his involvement in his wife’s primary campaign against Obama. After winning the White House, the president named Hillary Clinton as his secretary of state. “Heck, he even appointed Hillary!” Bill Clinton said last night, saying that move signaled to the rest of the world that “democracy does not have to be a blood sport.”
With two months before the election, Obama and Romney are tied in most national polls. A USA Today/Gallup poll conducted Aug. 20-22 showed Obama’s favorable rating at 53 percent, compared with Clinton’s approval 69 percent.
The Romney campaign moved to minimize Clinton’s effect hours before he spoke, saying Obama was no Clinton on the economic front.
Ryan, campaigning in Iowa, said Clinton would give “a great rendition of how good things were in the 1990s, but we’re not going to hear much about how things have been in the last four years.”
Ryan Williams, a Romney spokesman, said in a statement after the speech that “Bill Clinton worked with Republicans, balanced the budget, and after four years he could say you were better off,” while Obama “has barely worked with other Democrats.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Margaret Talev in Charlotte at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jeanne Cummings at email@example.com