No matter what you say or your opinion of President Bill Clinton, the man is a survivor. He is like the alien Predator; always lurking in the shadows, ready to pounce on his prey. He is the Republican Party’s worst nightmare because they threw everything they had at him, and the Constitution on top of it, and he still survived and came away more popular than all of his nemesis’ on Capitol Hill. His appearance as a conquering hero last night in support of President Obama was all the more ironic given the nastiness of the Democratic primary campaign four years ago and Clinton’s hardball, and some would say borderline racist attacks on behalf of Hillary Clinton against Barack Obama. All is now forgiven though in a tight presidential election and Hillary Clinton’s legacy secure as Secretary of State; the common enemy is a Republican Party that both Presidents Obama and Clinton loathe.
On a night when the Democratic “rainbow,” to steal Rev. Jesse Jackson’s still eloquent description of his party, was on display in the Time Warner Cable Arena it seemed to make sense to have the last southern Democratic president take the stage. After all, so much of this convention this week has been about the tide of history, with the imagery of the civil rights movement as a backdrop and living heroes like Rep. John Lewis, Rev. Jesse Jackson, former Charlotte mayor Harvey Gantt and others as visible reminders of just how far the Democratic Party has come. After all, North Carolina’s Jesse Helms was once a Democrat during a time when the party’s southern flank was hell bent on keeping Blacks out. Bill Clinton, for all his warts, represents the new South and a new sensibility about what it takes to govern a racially and culturally complex nation.
His appearance alone as a former President, in contrast to the absence of George W. Bush at the Republican convention, elevated his presence to mythical stature. Bill Clinton is now Obi- wan Kenobi and Yoda all wrapped up in one. Looking fit and trim, Bill Clinton strode to the podium, the battle-tested warrior, and wasted no time in dissecting the Romney campaign and exposing the flaws in the Republican Party’s attacks upon President Obama. He set the tone when he said, “I want a President that is cool on the outside and burns for America on the inside,” and was silky smooth when he remarked, “I also want a President who had the good sense to marry Michelle Obama.”
Where Bill Clinton was at his best last night though was his professorial takedown of the Republican Party. He was at the desk and America was his classroom last night. He chided Republicans for being uncooperative, and in effect unpatriotic, in their dealings with President Obama and used his experience as a governor and his own presidency as examples of the importance of bipartisanship. Clinton, as only a southerner from Arkansas could, even held up Dwight Eisenhower for the Republican’s use of federal troops to desegregate public schools. He insisted “one of the main reasons we should re-elect President Obama is because he is still committed to constructive cooperation.” And to drive home the point President Clinton joked, “Heck, he even appointed Hillary.” Later in reflecting upon the role of our nation as a global leader, he returned to the theme of cooperation and dialogue when he advised, “Democracy doesn’t have to be a blood sport. It can be an honorable enterprise that advances the public interest.”
Time and again President Clinton shamed Mitt Romney and the Republican Party, and went down the line of policy issues – the economy, health care, welfare reform, and the deficit – to call out the GOP on misleading the American public. Borrowing a potent line from a Republican icon, Clinton teased the opposition, by reflecting “as another President once said, there they go again.” He berated the Republicans like a disappointed parent, time and again urging his audience to “listen” so that his message was understood. Clinton expressed disapproval of the Republicans limited and narrow vision, telling the delegates “we believe that working together is a far better philosophy than you are on your own.” He also subtly suggested that Republicans are operating in a vacuum and that “what works in the real world is cooperation.”
Bill Clinton was keeping score last night and using the “arithmetic” of his Arkansas childhood, kept a running tab on the success of Democrats over Republicans in job creation and made a powerful defense of President Obama against charges by the Republicans that the nation is worse off four years since his election. Bill Clinton reminded America that no President, himself included, had assumed office facing the set of economic conditions that President Obama faced in January 2009. He reminded the country that when the President walked into the Oval Office the country was losing 700,000 jobs per month and now those losses have been turned into monthly gains. President Clinton made clear that America was better off and no President could bring the country back from the brink of depression in just four years. Powerfully, he challenged the nation to either support the fact-starved narrative of Mitt Romney or choose instead the vision of Barack Obama that is a continuation of the work of the Founders to form a more perfect Union.
It was a barn burner of a speech and President Clinton proved why he continues to be a wildly popular figure among Democrats. His message last night could only be delivered by him and in the manner in which only Bill Clinton can work an audience. Michelle Obama sparked the flame Tuesday night and Bill Clinton stoked the fire last night, sending the packed Time Warner Cable Arena over the edge. The roar of the crowd, the defiance in their cheers of “four more years” and the deafening celebration on the convention floor is just the type of energy the party wanted in anticipation of tonight’s headliner, President Obama.