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Bill Clinton speaks at the Democratic National Convention 2012: Live blog
Even with a quavering voice, President Bill Clinton, 66, played defense attorney, professor, preacher and salesman in his vintage live dramatic performance on behalf of President Barack Obama.
We all know that when it comes to the salesman part, it is best to check all the facts first, and Clinton has piled up a number of purportedly factual statements that will now be subject to dissection themselves — especially by those who once called him "Slick Willie."
An open issue is whether the excitement stirred by one man will transfer to another. It is always a question whether endorsements have any impact, though this one comes from a prime-time platform and puts some Arkansas into the mix to offset a bit some of that Chicago political style.
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With many previous speakers, the goal clearly was to turn out the base. With Clinton, there was a clear effort to reach, if not undecided voters, then not-quite-sold voters.
His repeated calls of "no, no, listen to me" to tamp down the ebullient noise in the hall had the effect of sounding as if the former president and current spouse of the secretary of state really had this terribly important fact to convey that would destroy the argument for Romney-Ryan. He was trying to capitalize on the "in" party going second in a national election year — well before the case goes to the jury.
With the roll-call nomination process playing out predictably post-Clinton, attention turns to Thursday's acceptance speech by Obama.
Here are the highlights of day two at the Democratic National Convention, as it happened.
Out on the platform steps Obama, embracing Clinton. There's chanting all over the arena. They are clapping and smiling. The nomination proceeds.
Clinton accuses Republicans of trying to reduce young, poor and minority voting. The cadence and response is "if you want xyz . . . you have to vote for Barack Obama."
He notes they criticized George Washington, too. "We always come back" says the man once known as the comeback kid, and cries up a "more perfect union."
And the windup: if you believe in America, essentially, you must re-elect Obama.
Wild cheering ensues.
"Republican policies quadrupled the national debt in the 12 years before I took office . . . It defied arithmetic . . . We simply cannot afford to give the reins of government to someone who will double down on trickle-down."
Clinton is working very hard to dismantle the GOP message for those who absorbed it, by jabbing away at debt reduction plans stated by the Republicans. He says middle-class families would see their tax bills rise under the GOP plan while the wealthy benefit — or, key programs would be trashed, he suggests.
Republican governors, he says, asked for waivers to try new things for welfare-to-work to work, and Obama sought to push for more work requirements. The claim that Obama tried to weaken work rules is untrue. Clinton cites a GOP quote: "we are not going to let fact-checkers" dictate the campaign. That much, Clinton says with a laugh, is indeed true.
Clinton says the Republicans would also decimate Medicaid — more than 2/3 of which is spent on nursing for seniors. This would end Medicare "as we know it" under the GOP plans, he states as he evokes those with autism and Down syndrome. "We can't let it happen!" is his standing ovation line.
Clinton now says Republicans do not tell the truth by saying Obama raided Medicare and — urging everyone listen again — counters that the administration "strengthened Medicare."
He names Republican VP candidate Paul Ryan as the one who claimed a cut that is to the very dollar what is in his plan. "It takes some brass to attack a guy" for doing what you did, Clinton says.
Clinton wades into Obama's health care plan, starting with the increase in the number of people covered and the expansion of more seniors receiving preventive care. "Soon insurance companies will have millions of new customers," he says.
"Are we better off because President Obama fought for health care reform? You bet we are!"
Now Clinton talks of new job openings that need people qualified to fill them. And he talks of community-college training programs. He talks about exploding college costs.
Clinton talks about the president's higher-education program as having promise to "change the future" for all Americans.
It is a style of his to slow down the cheering, and keep going with the speech. Is he concerned about time?
Clinton says the restructuring of the auto industry saved jobs and parts supplier businesses. "There are 250,000 more people working in the auto industry today than on the day the auto companies were restructured."
But the Congressional Republicans, he says, blocked Obama's job plans, and Romney opposed the auto policies.
Message: We're doing OK considering their obstructions.
Fingers shaking as he gestures, Clinton asks the cheering crowd to quiet down as he speaks of too many people not feeling the positive effects of policies yet. He said he had the same problem in 1994 and 1995, and what followed was "the longest peacetime expansion in the United States."
But, he says, Obama "started with a much weaker economy than I did." He urges them to listen — again — and says no one could have repaired all the damage in only four years. And he has laid the foundations for a revival that we'll feel if we re-elect him.
"With all my heart I believe it," he says.
Giving Clinton the benefit of the doubt? There's a lot of water under that bridge . . .
Now the ex-president makes a cautious foray into foreign policy, citing the end of the Iraq conflict.
He also cites Obama's preference for inclusion and cooperation over partisanship, as a way of bashing the GOP.
His defense-by-offense has Clinton castigating the Republicans as divisive.
"In Tampa . . . the Republican argument . . . was pretty simple, pretty snappy: 'We left a total mess. He hasn't cleaned it up fast enough, so fire him and put us back in.' " he says.
He accuses the GOP of hiding its commitment to failed past policies, on tax cuts, regulation, and budget cuts in programs especially that affect the middle class and children.
He even channels Ronald Reagan whom he identifies only as another former president. "There they go again!"
Clinton said he never managed to hate Republicans the way the far right hates Obama.
(The voice quavers and cracks a bit, suggesting a flu or just age.)
He talks of Democrats and the GOP working together as at his foundation (self-plug) rather than "fight all the time."
When times are tough, "the politics of constant conflict may be good, but what is good politically does not necessarily work in the real world."
To offset the "radical" rap on Obama, Clinton pulls everyone in the hall to the center, or tries. To do so he cites moderate GOP legislators who lost their jobs at Republican hands.
Obama "is still committed to constructive cooperation . . . Look at his record." GOP secretaries in his cabinet, appointing Hillary as secretary of state, his former rival, etc.
Clinton sets off to respond to the Tampa rhetoric that Obama doesn't believe in free enterprise. He says "we believe 'we're all in this together' is a better philosophy than 'you're on your own.' "
They're still rebutting, and it sounds as if that's the theme of the night. And there's Chelsea Clinton on the CNN monitor, applauding.
Clinton begins to describe Obama as "a man who stopped the slide into depression" and who "is cool on the outside but who burns for America on the inside."
Personality endorsement, it is. "And after last night, I want a man who had the good sense to marry Michelle Obama." Big cheers.
"I proudly nominate him to be the standard-bearer of the Democratic Party."
Video done, back to Fleetwood Mac, and here's Bubba. Dark suit, red striped tie, white shirt, secretary of state spouse in Asia. The cheering goes on.
Wide gestures as Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren wraps up. Next up is Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who in turn introduces a video for Bill Clinton. Musical backdrop of this video, at the outset, is the Fleetwood Mac classic 'Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow' we started to hear the Clinton camp use 20 years ago at the DNC in Madison Square Garden . . . Nostalgia night?
"No, Mr. Romney, corporations are not people," Warren says. "We run this country for people . . . that's why we need Barack Obama." She sounds like a complaining constituent at a municipal board meeting. She sounds sophisticated, and tells of how Obama "believes in the middle class."
This is long, and on the same populist talking points — and it doesn't get any more or less convincing as she goes on. She sounds like she can win if there's overwhelming Democratic turnout in the former state of Mitt Romney. Unfortunately, CNN just showed John Kerry yawning, which may well have been the reaction eight years ago when he accepted the nomination.
Now Warren is quoting from the book of Matthew and evoking Ted Kennedy's memory.
Warren tells the hard-luck stories of the current economy, but casts blame at large oil companies and chief execs "strutting around" in Congress demanding things. "Does anyone have a problem with that? I do, too."
She talks about "stashing money in the Cayman Islands to avoid paying their fair share of taxes," a clear shot at Mitt. "We celebrate success, we just don't want the game to be rigged."
This is clearly intended as a counternarrative to last week's Republican convention in Tampa, where Republicans emphasized business losses under Obama's "failed" economic policies. Are the parties talking to different audiences, and if so, how will they persuade those skeptics?
Warren, looking to recoup for the Democrats the Senate seat of the late Edward Kennedy, takes the stage. She speaks of humble working class roots and brothers in the military — like so many speakers at the GOP convention. "This is a great country." Talks about an America that "built a strong middle class."
They're responding to the GOP message with such folks as Senate candidates.
Sandra Fluke, the woman slammed on the air by Rush Limbaugh for her defense of a health care system that subsidizes contraceptives, praises Obama for having come to her defense, and contrasts the "two futures" offered by him and by Mitt Romney.
"Ladies and gentlemen, it's now time to choose." She's part of the war-on-women theme. She has very good presentation for a law student and will impress many. But does she win any new converts or get someone to vote who wouldn't otherwise have?