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Bill Clinton's 40-year DNC legacy

President Bill Clinton speaks at the Democratic National

President Bill Clinton speaks at the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pa., on July 26, 2016. Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

When former President Bill Clinton’s speech airs during the Democratic National Convention Tuesday night, it will mark an extraordinary achievement: 11 consecutive DNC’s as a featured speaker. There have been good speeches and one legendarily bad one, but more losers than winners. Clinton has spoken in support of four victorious campaigns, two of them his own, and six losing causes, one of them his wife’s. 

It is possible that Tuesday night’s convention speech will be his last, but he may also appear again in the future, depending on what Democrats need and whether the political parties keep having these conventions. A look at the highlights of his most notable convention speeches is a trip through recent electoral history. 

Here are some highlights of Bill Clinton at the DNC:

  • 1980: This was Clinton’s first DNC appearance as a speaker, and he was the nation’s youngest governor at the time, representing the Democratic Governors Association. The speech was well received and personal in tone, referencing his then-infant daughter, Chelsea, in a segment on why he was a Democrat that ended with, “I remain a Democrat today because of my love and concern for the welfare of my six-month-old daughter.”
  • 1988: Clinton’s third convention speech was supposed to make him a national star, and it did, for all the wrong reasons. His endless offering, which focused as much on himself as nominee Michael Dukakis, officially clocked in at about 30 minutes and is most famous for the fact that his biggest applause line was “In conclusion,” thanks to the cheers of attendees excited for him to stop talking.
  • 1992: Speaking on his own behalf during his first presidential run, Clinton was masterful and brief. His most memorable passage: “In the name of all those who do the work, pay the taxes, raise the kids and play by the rules, in the name of the hardworking Americans who make up our forgotten middle class, I proudly accept your nomination for President of the United States.”
  • 2000: Clinton was tapped to vouch for his own vice president, Al Gore, and help the Democrats overcome the stain of the Monica Lewinsky scandal on his way out of the White House. The scandal caused him to add the line “whatever you think about me” to his plea. With the economy booming and the budget in surplus, Gore had a great chance, but amid one of the most disputed elections in the nation’s history and a controversial Supreme Court decision about the results in Florida, George W. Bush won, bruising Clinton’s legacy.
  • 2008: Clinton had the unenviable task of speaking for Barack Obama after Obama had vanquished Hillary Clinton in the primaries in a race that saw Bill Clinton at his most churlish and unlikable in defense of his wife. His line “Sen. Obama’s life is a 21st-century version of the old-fashioned American dream,” could easily be seen as bittersweet: He could have used the same line for Hillary.
  • 2012: After his extremely well-received speech in favor of Obama’s reelection, Obama gave Clinton an extraordinarily complimentary nickname that was also a dig at Obama’s own stiffer professorial mien: he joked he should appoint Clinton the new post of “secretary of explaining stuff.”
  • 2016: Bill Clinton finally got to speak on behalf of Hillary’s nomination, and he went long again, speaking for almost an hour, but to better effect. The speech was more what you’d expect from an adoring husband than a party leader, heavy on lines like, “The first time I saw her, was in a class on political and civil rights … [She had] big blond hair, big glasses, wore no makeup and exuded a sense that I found magnetic. I knew I might be starting something I couldn’t stop.”

What will Bill Clinton bring Tuesday night? Political experience, certainly, more of it than just about anyone, except Joe Biden.

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