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Bill Clinton focuses on economy, ignores Libya

September 12, 2012|By Paul West
  • Former President Bill Clinton campaigns in Orlando, Fla., on behalf of President Obama.
Former President Bill Clinton campaigns in Orlando, Fla., on behalf of… (John Raoux / Associated…)

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Focused like a laser beam on making an economic case for President Obama’s reelection, Bill Clinton  wrapped up a two-day Florida campaign swing Wednesday by reprising applause lines from his recent national convention speech.

The former president made no reference to the deadly attack on U.S. diplomatic personnel in Libya, which had quickly become the center of the presidential campaign debate and the preoccupation of his wife, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who had joined Obama at several events in Washington related to the killings. Clinton's only mention of his wife’s name was a reference to her longtime friendship with Florida Sen. Bill Nelson.

Instead, Clinton offered another variation of the argument he had made the previous night in south Florida, aimed this time at voters in the Orlando area, a hub on the Interstate 4 corridor that decides close elections in the state.

“What I want to say again and again and again, it is my opinion, as someone who beginning when I was a governor in 1979, has spent a lifetime trying to create jobs and help people start businesses, and expand manufacturing and create opportunity for people …  that no president, not Barack Obama, not Bill Clinton, not anybody who served before us, nobody who ever had this job, could have repaired that much damage to this economy in just four years,” he said to prolonged cheers from hundreds of Obama supporters in a hotel ballroom on the city’s convention-center strip.

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“What the president has done and what the choice is should determine who gets the vote. I think all the evidence is that shared prosperity is better economics than trickle-down. All the evidence is that ‘we’re all in this together’ is a better guide to our society than ‘you’re on your own.’ All the evidence is that the tactics that promote creative cooperation  work a whole lot better than constant conflict,” Clinton said, reviving main themes of the address he delivered at the Charlotte, N.C., convention exactly one week earlier.

Based on audience responses at his initial post-convention appearances on Obama’s behalf, it’s clear that several other bits of that Charlotte speech have become a lasting part of the 2012 campaign lexicon, including his use of “arithmetic” to deride Mitt Romney’s economic policies and his broadside at Romney running mate Paul Ryan’s “brass” for attacking Obama over the $716 billion in Medicare cuts that were also in Ryan’s House GOP budget.

He wasn’t above offering a self-promotional aside on the subject of creating jobs ("We had a pretty good record”) or employing folk wisdom when blaming the trillions of dollars that have been added to the federal debt on Republican tax cutting.  “I was always taught that when you’re in a hole, the first rule is to quit digging,” he said.

At one point, he took a partisan swipe at the conservative faction that controls the Republican Party, remarking in a voice filled with wonder that “Richard Nixon’s too liberal for these people. It’s amazing.”

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And at least in his initial campaign foray for Obama, Clinton stayed resolutely on message. His charge that Romney’s economic plan would cost middle-class families $2,000 a year, which drew shouts of “No!” from the audience, reinforced a theme of the Obama campaign’s latest TV attack ad over taxes.

In addition to his efforts for Obama, the 66-year-old former president found time to give the keynote address at a Solar Power International conference in Orlando. The event was open to coverage by the energy trade press only.

He also appeared at a fundraising event in Palm Beach for Democratic House candidates Lois Frankel and Patrick Murphy, and helped House candidates Heather Beaven and Val Demings raise money in Orlando.

Demings, a former Orlando police chief, was given the honor of introducing Clinton at the rally.  “One of our greatest presidents,” she called him.

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paul.west@latimes.com

Twitter: @paulwestdc

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