At the Democratic national convention, former president throws his weight behind onetime foe in major boost to campaign
Bill Clinton, formerly one of Barack Obama‘s most bitter critics inside the Democratic party, has thrown all his prestige and popularity unequivocally behind the president’s bid to hold on to the White House.
In an old-fashioned barnstorming speech to the Democratic national convention â€“ much of it ad-libbed and considerably longer than the prepared text â€“ Clinton boiled the differences between Obama and his Republican opponent Mitt Romney to a simple, essential point.
The choice in November, he said, would be between whether voters wanted to be part of a “we’re all in this together society” or a “winner take all, you’re on your own society”.
Obama, who flew into Charlotte, North Carolina, on Wednesday afternoon, appeared on stage at the end and embraced Clinton. The delegates, who cheered and applauded throughout the speech, chanted: “We are fired up.”
The image of that valedictory moment will be pushed hard by the Obama campaign. Clinton reaches parts of the Democratic party and independents that the president struggles with: white male working-class voters in particular.
He formally nominated Obama as the party’s presidential nominee and that was confirmed later in a roll call of delegates.
Clinton’s 48-minute speech combined folksy ad-libs with a detail-packed, point-by-point rebuttal of Republican attacks on Obama’s record. “We simply cannot afford to give the reins of government to someone who will double down on trickledown,” Clinton said
It was also a powerful positive argument for re-electing Obama to finish the job of securing recovery, a task Clinton said neither he nor any other president could have delivered in just four years.
“President Obama started with a much weaker economy than I did,” said Clinton. “No president â€“ not me or any of my predecessors â€“ could have repaired all the damage in just four years. But conditions are improving and if you’ll renew the president’s contract you will feel it. I believe that with all my heart.”
The speech offers the Obama team a clear blueprint for the next two months of campaigning â€“ their messages over the last few months have been confused at times as they struggled to articulate a coherent case for re-election.
In a week that has seen the Obama campaign grapple unconvincingly with the question “Are voters better off than four years ago?”, Clinton had an unequivocal response.
“Now, are we 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 answer is yes.”
Since 1961, Clinton said, Democrats had held power for 24 years, the Republicans 28, and the economy had created 66m private sector jobs in that period. “So what’s the job score? Republicans, 24 million; Democrats, 42 [million],” he said.
Clinton â€“ much thinner a year after announcing he was becoming a vegan for health reasons â€“ demonstrated again why he is the biggest draw in the Democratic party and the 23,000-seater arena was filled to capacity to hear him formally nominate Obama for re-election.
It is a long way from 2008 when Clinton made many bitter remarks about Obama during the campaign by his wife, Hillary, for the Democratic presidential nomination, and Obama campaign officials branded the former president a racist. Even the most diehard member of Obama’s inner circle, where there is still lingering animosity from four years ago,Â would find it hard to say that Clinton did not deliver on the night for his successor.
“I want to nominate a man who ran for president to change the course of an already weak economy and then just six weeks before his election, saw it suffer the biggest collapse since the Great Depression … I want to nominate a man who’s cool on the outside but who burns for America on the inside,” Clinton said.
He added, to loud cheers that won another standing ovation, if mainly for the first lady who spoke powerfully the night before: “And by the way, after last night I want a man who had the good sense to marry Michelle Obama.”
Clinton rebutted Republican attack after attack mounted against Obama over healthcare, debt, the car industry bailout and economic management.
The president, he said, contrary to accusations by the Republicans, had sought to work with the other side in Congress but had been repeatedly rebuffed. His instinct was towards co-operation. “Obama appointed several members of his cabinet even though they supported Hillary. Heck, he even appointed Hillary,” he said, his best joke of the night.
The core of his speech dealt with the ideological divide between the parties.”My fellow Americans, all of us in this grand hall and everybody watching at home, when we vote in this election we’ll be deciding what kind of country we want to live in. If you want a winner take all, you’re on your own society you should support the Republican ticket. But if you want a country of shared opportunities and shared responsibility, a we’re all in this together society, you should vote for Barack Obama and Joe Biden.”
Clinton’s presidency coincided with a period of economic boom and part of his popularity stems for a nostalgia for that period. He was dismissive of Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s claims, outlined last week at the Republican convention in Tampa, Florida, that he would deliver speedier economic recovery.
“Now I Â like the argument for President Obama’s re-election a lot better. Here it is. He inherited a deeply damaged economy. He put a floor under the crash. He began the long hard road to recovery and laid the foundation for a modern, more well-balanced economy that will produce millions of good new jobs, vibrant new businesses and lots of new wealth for innovators.”
Clinton’s primetime appearance lifted party spirits after a day of setbacks. Obama’s plan to make his nomination speech in an open-air 73,000-seater football stadium near the convention had to be abandoned because of fears of a thunderstorm.
Worse was to come in the afternoon in a self-inflicted row among Democrats over the party’s policy on the status of Jerusalem. On Tuesday it emerged that a statement declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel had been removed from the platform, sparking 24 hours of furious criticism from pro-Israel groups and Republicans.
Yesterday Obama personally intervened in an attempt to close down the issue by reinserting the line into the platform, a move that brought booing from the convention floor.
That the delegates are more deeply liberal than the party in general was demonstrated with the rapturous reception for Elizabeth Warren, the party’s Senate candidate in Massachusetts. Warren has been one of the leading critics of Wall Street and hit the theme again on Wednesday night.
“People feel like the system is rigged against them. And here’s the painful part: they’re right. The system is rigged. Look around. Oil companies guzzle down billions in subsidies. Billionaires pay lower tax rates than their secretaries. Wall Street CEOs â€“ the same ones who wrecked our economy and destroyed millions of jobs â€“ still strut around Congress, no shame, demanding favours and acting like we should thank them.Â Anyone here have a problem with that? Well I do.”
She was given the warm-up spot for Clinton, a sign of the importance of her campaign in Massachusetts. A win in the traditionally Democratic state would help the party hold on to its majority in the Senate.
Another stand-out speaker at the conference was Sandra Fluke, who had been described as a “slut” by the conservative talk-show host Rush Limbaugh when she spoke about contraception at a congressional hearing.
“Our president, when he hears a young woman has been verbally attacked, thinks of his daughters â€“ not his delegates or donors â€“ and stands with all women,” she said. “And strangers come together, reach out and lift her up. And then, instead of trying to silence her, you invite me here â€“ and give me a microphone â€“ to amplify our voice. That’s the difference.”