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Former chief executive Bill Clinton, by most measures one of the most popular figure in American political life, electrified the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte Wednesday, when he formally placed President Barack Obama’s name in nomination for reelection and forcefully told the delegates that, in recent decades, theirs has been the party of prosperity.
“The most important question is, what kind of country do you want to live in?” Clinton told the convention and a primetime television audience. “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.”
To the delight of the delegates, Clinton’s audience in Charlotte included an unexpected guest–President Obama. After Clinton finished his remarks, the president stepped onto stage while Tom Petty’s song “Won’t Back Down” played in the background.
It was in several senses a historic homecoming for Clinton, who surmounted stumbles over an unsuccessful healthcare reform, a Republican-engineered government shutdown and even a partisan impeachment, to lead the country into an unparalleled economic expansion that left the federal budget in surplus at the end of eight years. Tonight, he also became the first former president ever to nominate a successor for election.
Relations between Clinton and Obama were severely strained during the 2008 primary campaign, when the president ran head-to-head with Hillary Clinton in several bitterly contested state contests and Wednesday’s effusive endorsement signaled that the popular ex-president is now all-in on the incumbent’s reelection campaign. One place his support is likely to matter more than most is Hollywood, where both Bill and Hillary remain immensely well-liked as politicians who both appreciate and understand the entertainment industry.
Clinton, whose address was preceded by a slick video tribute, repeatedly brought the delegates to their feet with an address that pointedly highlighted the philosophical and economic choices confronted by voters in November, as well the implicit difference between his economic record and that of his Republican successor, George W. Bush.
“In Tampa” Clinton told the crowd, “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.
“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.”
Clinton had some sharp words for Rep. Paul Ryan, who accused Obama at the RNC in Tampa last week of raiding Medicare in a “cold power play.”
“It takes some brass to attack a guy for doing what you did,” Clinton told the crowd, prompting a standing ovation.
Clinton continued: “If you want a future of shared prosperity, where the middle class is growing and poverty is declining, where the American Dream really is alive and well again, and where the United States remains the leading force for peace and justice and prosperity in a highly competitive world, you have to vote for Barack Obama.
“Look, I love our country so much – and I know we’re coming back. For more than 200 years, through every crisis, we’ve always come back.”
Afterward, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer called the speech the best he has ever heard Clinton give.
David Gergen added: “There is simply no one better. This is the most effective and influential speech he has given since leaving the presidency.”
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