William Jefferson Clinton may be the most gifted all-around politician of his generation. Wednesday night in Charlotte, the former president who endured tribulation and enjoyed triumph during his two terms in office brought his fellow Democrats home to their roots, home to the spirit of Franklin Roosevelt.
In a long and eloquent speech about the differences between his party and that of Republicans, Clinton drew a stark contrast between the party, his party, that he said believes were all in this together, and the Republicans, the party of youre on your own. Its a vision that goes to the heart of Americas success.
Medicare? Health care reform will help save it, Clinton said, by creating savings that can be invested in it. If GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney is elected and keeps his oft-repeated vow to repeal Obamacare on his first day in office, there will be no savings and Medicare will go broke.
Economic recovery? Romneys plan to cut taxes for the wealthy, with a promise that the middle class (which might actually wind up paying more) could eventually benefit from jobs created with all that saved tax money from above, means doubling down on trickle down, Clinton said. The numbers just dont add up, he contended as he spiked one Republican position after another.
In 1993, Clinton took over a sluggish economy that middle-class people didnt seem to have much faith in after 12 years of Republican rule in the White House, and brought the nation prosperity.
That gives him credibility when he answers Yes to the question Republicans this year are trying to make practically a theme song: Are you better off now than you were four years ago?
Yes, says Clinton, and if President Obama, who made his convention speech last night, continues in office, things will get better still. Indeed, recent trends, though long in coming, show housing sales up in many places, new jobs being created and a stock market that, while always volatile, is much healthier than it was on the occasion of Obamas election in 2008.
With an unbridled optimism and enthusiasm, Clinton offered as evidence to justify keeping faith with Obama and Democrats statistics showing that in the last 50 years, Democratic presidents have presided over the creation of more private sector jobs (not just the public jobs Republicans dismiss) than Republican presidents have, in fact by a considerable margin.
The whole truth
And presenting the sort of confident, focused, good-humored and compassionate point-making that drove congressional Republicans to distraction during his presidency, Clinton also stayed true, with regard to discussing welfare reform, to a political principle hes long believed in: He doesnt allow opponents to take a shot based on information that is inaccurate.
To Republican claims, for example, that Obama has weakened rules in the welfare system that require people on assistance to be in school receiving training or working if they are able, Clinton said such claims are untrue. And he noted that he, after all, was the president who signed welfare reform into law.
At times, standing on a large stage with a cheering, supportive crowd in front of him, Clinton called to mind the late Hubert Humphrey, the happy warrior of Democratic politics in the 1950s and 60s. Clearly the former president still finds the fight invigorating.
But he demands a fair fight, based on ideas, and he reminded his audience that some Republican leaders in Congress vowed almost from the day Obama took office, perhaps even before, that they would stand against his agenda, and that their top priority would be defeating that agenda at every turn.
In other words, the president would be on his own.
Obama may have taken some strong blows and suffered some defeats, but he can at least say he has tried to keep everyone in this together. If that spirit of cooperation fails or is rejected, America will be a different, more vulnerable place.