Bill Clinton took the stage of the Democratic convention on Wednesday night to the strains of the Fleetwood Mac music he’s made his theme. The gleamin’ vegan, proving he remains the ding-dong-daddy of the Presidency, gave a rip-roaring speech to nominate Barack Obama as, once again, “the standard-bearer of the Democratic Party.” In a surprise appearance, President Obama came onstage after Clinton concluded, and the two hugged, this time to the sound of Tom Petty singing “I Won’t Back Down.”
Clinton said, “I want to nominate a man who’s cool on the outside but who burns for America on the inside”; he added, “After last night, I want to nominate a man who had the good sense to marry Michelle Obama.” Loose and ebullient, sprinkling his text with ad libs, Clinton reminded viewers what a powerful speaker he is, and how his pleasure in speechifying can be contagious.
But Clinton was not all loose and smiley. After receiving a big laugh and a cheer for his Presley-esque, “Burning Love” critiques of the Romney-Ryan plans for the economy and health care, he said, “You’re having a good time, but this is serious. I want you to listen, because a lotta people believe this stuff.”
“Though I often disagree with Republicans,” Clinton said, “I never learned to hate them the way the far right that now controls their party seems to hate our President.” Clinton’s criticisms could not have been more direct. Among them: “When Congressman Ryan looked into the TV camera and attacked President Obama’s ‘biggest coldest power play,’ I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. You see, that $716 billion [the Republicans say Obama will take from Medicare] is exactly, to the dollar, the same amount of Medicare savings Congressman Ryan had in his own budget. You gotta give him one thing, it takes some brass to attack a guy for doin’ what you did.”
Clinton inveighed against “the politics of constant conflict” and asserted that “what works in the real world is cooperation.”
Unlike Mitt Romney, who said he’s not watching the Democratic convention, Clinton said he watched the Republican one, and came away convinced that “they’re gonna keep every commitment they made; we just have to make sure what those commitments are.”
He referred to “this alternative universe” in which “the government is always the enemy”; Clinton said, “We simply can’t afford to give the reigns of government to people who will double-down on trickle-down.”
Clinton’s speech was extensive and wide-ranging, with point-by-point rebuttals of many Republican talking points, and stated the Obama administration’s positions on the economy, health care, energy conservation — even the Republicans’ recent attempts at voting-law manipulation.
He peaked by posing a contrast: “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 opportunities and shared responsibilities, a ‘we’re all in it together’ society, you should vote for Barack Obama and Joe Biden.”
Watching Clinton was, yes, entertaining — vastly entertaining. The man can mingle facts and figures with wisecracks and good ole boy chumminess. But it was also moving. Moving in the sense that he left you wishing that there were more people, in both parties, who spoke so forthrightly and vividly. It would be a lot more engaging Presidential campaign if there were. Obama has his work cut out for him tomorrow night to top this.