It is rare in presidential politics for an incumbent to need the validation of a former president, which is what Bill Clinton’s appearance at the Democratic National Convention Wednesday night was, in essence.
Clinton became the first former chief executive to place in nomination a sitting president, which perhaps underscores just where Barack Obama finds himself as he faces the prospect of possibly having his legacy blemished by ignominious defeat.
“The most important question is, what kind of country do you want to live in?” the party’s most popular political figure told delegates in a rousing speech.
“If you want a you’re-on-your-own, winner-take-all society, you should support the Republican ticket. If you want a country of shared prosperity and shared responsibility — a we’re-all-in-this-together society — you should vote for Barack Obama and Joe Biden.”
The former president appealed for more time for Obama to turn around the economy and reduce the jobless rate of 8.3 percent.
Clinton said the situation Obama found himself in after taking office was worse than anything facing any recent president, including himself – and that he could not have done more.
“He inherited a deeply damaged economy, put a floor under the crash, began the long hard road to recovery, and laid the foundation for a more modern, more well-balanced economy that will produce millions of good new jobs, vibrant new businesses, and lots of new wealth for the innovators,” Clinton said.
“Now, are where we want to be today? No. Is the president satisfied? Of course not. But are we better off than we were when he took office?”
The crowd erupted into a thunderous applause.
At 66, looking a trim portion of his once-beefy self, Clinton defended Obama’s economic leadership criticized by Mitt Romney and the Republicans at their convention last week.
“In Tampa, the Republican argument against the president’s re-election was pretty simple: We left him a total mess, he hasn’t finished cleaning it up yet, so fire him and put us back in,” Clinton said.
“I like the argument for President Obama’s re-election a lot better. He inherited a deeply damaged economy, put a floor under the crash, began the long hard road to recovery, and laid the foundation for a more modern, more well-balanced economy that will produce millions of good new jobs, vibrant new businesses, and lots of new wealth for the innovators.”
But Bill Clinton’s appearance capping the second night of the convention was not without its potentially awkward moment – a reminder of the lowest point of his presidency: His impeachment, though no acquittal for his sexual tryst with intern Monica Lewinsky.
Convention organizers inexplicably scheduled Rabbi David Wolpe of Los Angeles Sinai Temple – where Lewinsky and her family were members and where Monica attended religious school — to deliver the benediction Tuesday night — not long after Clinton spoke.
Wolpe strongly condemned Clinton and called on him to “cleanse his soul” for his sexual relationship that almost brought down his presidency.
Bill Clinton has come a long way in repairing his image and reputation – and just as far politically in making up with Obama, who was critical of the 42nd president during his hotly contested primary campaign against Hillary Clinton in 2008.
Today Clinton’s personal approval ratings – easily exceeding Obama’s — have never been higher.
In an interview with NBC’s Brian Williams Wednesday, Clinton talked about his relationship with Obama, saying “We haven’t been close friends a long time or anything like that, but he knows that I support him,”
“I always had a lot of respect for his raw ability and his appeal,” he said. “And politics is a contact sport. But when it’s over, you have to ask yourself, ‘What do you believe in? Who do you agree with? What direction should the country take? Who’s going to be helped most if this person or that person is elected?’”
Hillary Clinton, now Obama’s secretary of state, is forbidden by law from participating in a political convention. But the former president was joined at the convention by the couple’s daughter, Chelsea, a special correspondent for NBC News.
In his speech, Clinton excoriated the Republicans for their unwillingness to cooperation in legislation and in trying to reach agreements – and for repudiating GOP lawmakers who try to cooperate.
“Why does cooperation work better than constant conflict?” he asked. “Because nobody’s right all time, and a broken clock is right twice a day. Everyone of us and every one of them – we’re compelled to spend our fleeing lives between those two extremes, knowing we’re never going to be right all the time but hoping we’re right more than twice a day.
“Unfortunately, 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.”
Clinton also challenged Republican for what he said has been a campaign of hatred against Obama.
“Though I often disagree 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 said.
“After all, President Eisenhower sent federal troops to my home state to integrate Little Rock Central High and built the interstate highway system.”
Obama, he said, has proven he is not of that ilk.
“One of the main reasons we ought to re-elect President Obama is because he is committed to constructive cooperation,” he said, pointing out how Obama sought to make his administration inclusive of people who had not originally supported him.
“President Obama appointed several member of his Cabinet even though they supported Hillary in the primary. Heck, he even appointed Hillary!
“I am very proud of her. I am proud of the job she and the national security team have done for America.”
Obama could not have asked for a better nominating speech, nor anticipated that Clinton could deliver, possibly even better than the Clinton of old, especially when talking about last week’s GOP convention.
“In order to look like an acceptable alternative to President Obama, they couldn’t say much about the ideas they have offered over the last two years,” he said.
“You see they want to go back to the same old policies that got us into trouble in the first place: to cut taxes for high income Americans even more than President Bush did; to get rid of those pesky financial regulations designed to prevent another crash and prohibit future bailouts; to increase defense spending two trillion dollars more than the Pentagon has requested without saying what they’ll spend the money on; to make enormous cuts in the rest of the budget, especially programs that help the middle class and poor kids.
“As another President once said – there they go again.”
Clinton said he is confident a successful economic recovery is ahead, and that Obama can get the country there.
“I love our country – and I know we’re coming back,” he said. “For more than 200 years, through every crisis, we’ve always come out stronger than we went in. And we will again as long as we do it together.
“We champion the cause for which our founders pledged their lives, their fortunes, their sacred honor – to form a more perfect union.”