CHARLOTTE, N.C.— Sounding at times like a college lecturer and others like a revival speaker, former President Clinton delivered a thumping endorsement Wednesday night of incumbent Barack Obama, saying his policies were slowly healing the country and would lead to dramatic improvement in a second term.
“No president, not me or any of my predecessors, could have repaired all the damage in just four years," Clinton said in a rapturously received speech that capped the second night of the Democratic National Convention.
"But conditions are improving, and if you'll renew the president's contract you will feel it," he said, jabbing the air with a finger for emphasis. "You will feel it."
Clinton's panoramic 48-minute speech — which ran nearly 30 minutes over schedule and well past the designated hour of prime-time national TV coverage -- offered lavish praise for Obama and heaping criticism of Mitt Romney, the GOP nominee.
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Referring to last week’s GOP convention, Clinton said that 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.”
“I like the argument for President Obama’s reelection a lot better,” Clinton went on. “Here it is: He inherited a deeply damaged economy, put a floor under the crash [and] began the long, hard road to recovery.”
One after another, he refuted the charges Republicans have leveled against Obama, at one point citing statistics showing that over the last half-century the country had created tens of millions more jobs under Democratic presidents than under Republicans.
“It turns out that advancing equal opportunity and economic empowerment is both morally right and good economics,” Clinton said, making the case Obama has argued for the role of government in boosting prosperity.
The former president assailed Romney and his running mate, Rep. Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, for accusing Obama of cutting $716 billion from Medicare — a move intended to contain costs -- when Ryan’s House budget proposal would do the same thing. It takes brass, Clinton said, to mount such an attack.
He also blamed Republicans for piling on massive debt, then blaming Obama for his contribution to the red ink. Romney, Clinton said, would make the problem even worse, calling his plan a return to the “trickle-down” policies that helped tank the economy.
And Clinton noted that, contrary to Romney’s assertions in ads and on the campaign trail, Obama would not waive the work requirement for welfare recipients, saying that — as the architect of welfare reform during his presidency — he took the assertion personally. The statement had been proved false, Clinton noted, by independent fact-checkers. “I just hope you remember that every time you see the ad,” Clinton said.
Clinton formally placed Obama’s name into nomination for a second term. After he spoke, Obama strode on stage and the two men embraced as the crowd roared its approval. (The outcome of the state-by-state roll call was never in doubt.)
The vouching of one president for another — who, not incidentally, bested his wife in a bitter fight for the Democratic nomination four years ago -- was a powerful symbolic moment in what had been an evening of unrelenting attacks on the Romney and Ryan.
In a fiery, populist speech preceding Clinton’s remarks, Elizabeth Warren, the consumer crusader and liberal heroine running for a Senate seat in Massachusetts, said 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, voucher-ize Medicare and vaporize 'Obamacare',” Warren said.
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 last 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 winner-take-all, you’re-on-your-own, you should support the Republican ticket. But if you want a country of shared opportunity and shared responsibility, a we’re-all-in-this-together society, you should vote for Barack Obama and Joe Biden.”