CHARLOTTE — Bill Clinton took center stage Wednesday at the Democratic National Convention in hopes of persuading middle-class voters that President Barack Obama could turn a troubled economy around the same way the former president did two decades ago.
Obama was in the arena and joined Clinton on stage for a hug after the speech.
The 42nd president remains hugely popular among Democrats, and his speech was hotly anticipated by delegates yearning for a full-throated defense of Obamas economic policies.
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 said.
Republicans, he said, are arguing that they left him a total mess, he hasnt finished cleaning it up yet, so fire him and put us back in, Clinton said. I like the argument for President Obamas re-election a lot better.
Clintons endorsement is meant to signal a good economy seal of approval for Obama, a promise that his policies will bring back the peace and prosperity of the 1990s, when a booming economy created millions of jobs, stocks soared and a flood of tax revenues helped balance the federal budget for the first time in a generation.
It comes from a man who arrived slowly, even grudgingly, at Obamas side after first watching his wife lose a hard-fought battle for the 2008 Democratic nomination, then watching Obama coast to a solid majority that had twice eluded Clinton.
But the two have grown closer, and Clintons warm embrace Wednesday signals not only his support, but the belief that his familys future is tied up with Obamas.
What kind of country?
Clinton framed the election as a choice between an Obama second term that he said would boost the middle class and a Romney administration that would not.
The most important question is, what kind of country do you want to live in? Clinton said. If you want a youre-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 were-all-in-this-together society you should vote for Barack Obama and Joe Biden.
Clinton, who served from 1993 to 2001, came into office at the end of a recession and is credited by some for helping the nation achieve a budget surplus. With millions still out of work and trillion-dollar deficits sending the national debt soaring, Obama looked for Clinton to vouch for his approach.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota said Clinton has enormous credibility because of his handling of the economy and the national debt.
People trust him on economic issues, she said, and hes an important person to discuss how we got where we are and what is the choice we need to make between two different directions.
The second day of the convention included speeches from a slew of elected officials and supporters, including Elizabeth Warren, a candidate for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts, and Sandra Fluke, who sparked criticism from conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh after testifying before Congress in support of Obamas decision to require some religious employers to offer access to contraception.
Mitt Romney? He wants to give tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires, Warren said. But for middle-class families who are hanging on by their fingernails his plans will hammer them with a new tax hike of up to $2,000. Mitt Romney wants to give billions in breaks to big corporations but he and Paul Ryan would pulverize financial reform, voucher-ize Medicare and vaporize Obamacare.
Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, drew a standing ovation at the mention of her mother, the late former Texas Gov. Ann Richards, who memorably skewered George H.W. Bush at a Democratic convention 24 years ago.
Richards said her mother had a chance to meet Obama and that she saw in him a promise for America.
She believed that the American dream was not meant for just a few, it promised opportunity for everyone, Richards said as she teared up.
She warned that Ryan and Romney want to turn back the clock on reproductive rights like a bad episode of Mad Men, and added, Mom wouldnt have stood for it, and neither will we.
Clinton: I mean it
Obama asked Clinton in July to speak at the convention, and the former president wrote much of the speech himself.
Clinton, who relishes the limelight, tried to strike a balance between supporting Obama and overshadowing him.
Clinton addressed his hometown Arkansas delegation Tuesday night and pushed back against any suggestion hed deliver a half-hearted endorsement, delegates said.
The first thing he said was, Im not just getting up there to talk, I mean it, said convention delegate Dianne Curry of Little Rock, Ark. He sincerely believes in Obama.