CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Assuming the role of advocate in chief, former President Clinton delivered a resounding endorsement of President Obama on Wednesday night, saying he inherited a terrible economic situation and kept it from getting worse.
“In Tampa, the Republican argument against the president’s reelection was pretty simple: We left him a total mess, he hasn’t finished cleaning it up, so fire him and put us back in,” Clinton said in remarks prepared for his prime-time speech, the climax of the second day of the Democratic National Convention.
“I like the argument for President Obama’s reelection a lot better,” Clinton went on. “He inherited a deeply damaged economy, put a floor under the crash [and] began the long hard road to recovery.”
The vouching of one president for another provided a high-minded note for what had been an evening of unrelenting attacks on the GOP nominee, Mitt Romney, and his running mate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul D. Ryan.
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Preceding Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, the consumer crusader and liberal heroine, delivered a fiery populist address, saying the pair would undermine the middle class by slashing the social safety net.
Romney “wants to give tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires … but he and Paul Ryan would pulverize financial reform,” she said, shaking her head, “voucher-ize Medicare and vaporize Obamacare.”
“President Obama believes in a level playing field,” she said. “He believes in a country where nobody gets a free ride or a golden parachute.”
Running into stiff headwinds resulting from a stubbornly high unemployment rate, Obama and his fellow Democrats have sought to turn the November election from a referendum on the past 3½ years to a choice between the incumbent and his Republican rival, a former Massachusetts governor.
One after another, speakers sought Wednesday night to paint that choice in the starkest terms.
“The most important question is, what kind of country do you want to live in,” Clinton asked. “If you want a you’re-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 we’re-all-in-this-together society, you should vote for Barack Obama.”
Speakers praised Obama’s record: passing healthcare reform, fighting to lower student loan costs, supporting veterans, bailing out the U.S. auto industry. They said things have gotten better under his watch — the country is no longer hemorrhaging jobs, they noted, even if the rate of recovery is disappointing. But the great weight of effort Wednesday seemed intended to cast Romney in the least flattering light.
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There were aggrieved stories from workers who said they suffered when Romney’s Bain Capital took over their companies. “I don’t think Mitt Romney is a bad man,” said Randy Johnson, a former factory worker. “What I fault him for is making money without a moral compass. I fault him for putting profits ahead of people like me.”
Speakers asserted Romney’s privileged upbringing and considerable wealth meant he could not feel for those suffering economically.
“We certainly want those at the top to do well,” said New York Sen. Charles Schumer. “But if you base your entire presidency and your entire economic platform on helping them do even better, you’re missing what makes the economy tick, because not everyone has been as fortunate as Mitt Romney. You cannot base your whole approach on a life experience as rarefied as his.”
One after another, women invoked Romney’s opposition to legal abortion and proposal to cut federal funding for Planned Parenthood, saying it would turn back the clock on their rights.
“We’ve come so far, we’ve come so far, so why are we having to fight in 2012 against politicians who want to end access to birth control,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood. “It’s like we woke up in a bad episode of ‘Mad Men.’ ”
For his part, Romney laid low a second day, locked away in debate preparation at a retreat in Vermont. But he briefly surfaced in a Fox News interview, saying granting Obama a second term would be “a big mistake.”
“I don’t think the American people want to see this president get another four years,” Romney said. “These last four years have not been good for the middle class in America…. This has not been a good time for the American people.”