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DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CONVENTION

Obama 'on the right side of history,' Clinton says

The former president pledges support for his wife's onetime rival and urges his divided party to do the same.

August 28, 2008|James Rainey | Times Staff Writer

DENVER — Former President Clinton urged Democrats and Americans to send his wife's former rival, Barack Obama, to the White House this fall in an impassioned address designed to put to rest lingering divisions within the Democratic Party.

Clinton lauded the Illinois senator as "a 21st century incarnation of the old-fashioned American dream" and an example of the nation's "progress toward a more perfect union."

Although the media and Republicans for days had fanned rumors that Clinton would not fully embrace Obama, the former president dampened that notion from the opening line of his 20-minute speech: "I am here first to support Barack Obama."

He soon suggested that he not only supported the 47-year-old Democrat but saw something in common in their political lineage.

"The Republicans said I was too young and too inexperienced to be commander in chief," Clinton said to a roar of approval from the Democrats. "Sound familiar?"

"It didn't work in 1992 because we were on the right side of history. And it will not work in 2008 because Barack Obama is on the right side of history."

Greeted by a more-than-three-minute standing ovation, Clinton cajoled the audience not to take too much of his time.

Delegates reviewed Clinton's unity appeal in glowing terms.

"It was awesome. . . . This is the speech that will unite the party," said Guillermo Mena, 32, a Hillary Rodham Clinton delegate from Puerto Rico. "He hit all the right notes. He told America why John McCain should not be president, why John McCain is the same as Bush."

James E. Clyburn, the ranking African American in Congress, had upbraided Bill Clinton earlier for injecting race into Obama's contest against Hillary Rodham Clinton. But the South Carolina lawmaker Wednesday praised the former president for a "great speech. Just outstanding."

Not known for his brevity in five previous addresses to Democratic conventions that ranged up to an hour and six minutes, Clinton this time delivered a taut summation of his own legacy, while arguing that Obama could reverse failed Republican policies.

"They took us from record surpluses to an exploding national debt," Clinton began, "from over 22 million new jobs down to 5 million; from an increase in working family incomes of $7,500 to a decline of more than $2,000; from almost 8 million Americans moving out of poverty to more than 5 1/2 million falling into poverty."

On a night the Democrats devoted to the theme of national security -- the strength of presumptive Republican nominee John McCain -- Clinton suggested that national security had been too narrowly defined.

"Barack Obama knows that America can't be strong abroad unless we are first strong at home," Clinton said, provoking one of the loudest roars from the crammed floor of the Pepsi Center. "People the world over have always been more impressed by the power of our example than by the example of our power."

He briefly praised McCain for showing independence at times in his long career in the Senate but added quickly that "on the two great questions of this election, how to rebuild the American dream and how to restore America's leadership in the world, he still embraces the extreme philosophy which has defined his party for more than 25 years."

The former president ended by returning to one of the themes from his first presidential run in 1992 -- built around his roots in Hope, Ark.

"Barack Obama will lead us away from the division and fear of the last eight years back to unity and hope," Clinton said. "So if you, like me, believe that America must always be a place called Hope, then join Hillary and Chelsea and me in making Barack Obama the next president of the United States."

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Times staff writer Aaron Zitner contributed to this report.

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