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Bill Clinton Touts Obama, Warns Against Romney

ElectionsBarack ObamaBill ClintonMitt RomneyFinance

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Declaring that "America is better off" than it was when Barack Obama became president, former President Clinton lauded the record of his Democratic successor and skewered his Republican rival, depicting the choice before voters as one between "a winner-take-all, you're-on-your-own society" and a "we're-all-in-this-together society."

His voice thinner and raspier but his oratorical gifts unchanged, Clinton delivered a 48-minute address that alternated between lengthy discussions of policy and partisan jabs leavened with humor and admonitions that "this is important, I want you to listen."

Mitt Romney, he said, would "double down on trickle down." His own administration had balanced the budget four times, simply by "arithmetic," he said. By contrast, Romney's "numbers just don't add up."

Republicans had quadrupled the national debt in the 12 years before he became president and doubled it again in the eight years that followed, Clinton said, not mentioning that the deficit also has grown under Obama. Romney's plans, he warned, would "explode the debt and destroy the economy."

And he sought to lend to Obama his own image as a president who practiced bipartisan compromise.

"What works in the real world is cooperation," he said.

"Unfortunately, the faction that now dominates the Republican Party doesn't see it that way. They think government is always the enemy," he said, "and compromise is weakness."

The Republican argument, he said, boiled down to this: "We left him a total mess, he hasn't cleaned it up fast enough, so fire him, and put us back in.

"As another president once said, 'There they go again,'" he said, quoting the Republican icon, Ronald Reagan.

Clinton, his image resurrected in the years since his tainted presidency, was greeted with adulation on the floor of the convention.

Even before turning over the second night of the event to him, the Obama campaign had relied heavily on Clinton.

A TV advertisement featuring the former president has been airing heavily in North Carolina and Florida, both battleground states with a large number of the more conservative, financially hard-pressed Democrats among whom Clinton is more popular than Obama.

In an election dominated by voters' concerns over the economy, Clinton sought to offer Obama the credibility that comes from having presided over a period of rapid economic growth, near-full employment and balanced budgets.

"He has unbelievable legitimacy as the only president who has brought a generalized prosperity," said Stanley Greenberg, who was the pollster for Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign.

When voters talk about the late 1990s -- Clinton's second term -- they often say, "That's when I had money," Greenberg said.

Voters also don't see Clinton "as a shill for Obama," Greenberg said, in part because of the battle between Obama and Clinton's wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, for the 2008 Democratic nomination. "He has the distance and independence to make the case."

Clinton emphasized that point in an interview before his speech.

"We haven't been close friends a long time or anything like that," Clinton told NBC anchorman Brian Williams. "It is, from my point of view, not a transaction or a bromance or any of that sort of stuff."

NBC was the one network not to air the speech live because of its contract to air the NFL season-opening game between the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants.

Clinton formally nominated Obama as the party's presidential candidate.

The pro forma roll call ratifying the nomination began afterward, with Obama officially winning the nomination shortly after midnight Eastern time. Clinton had already moved on to a late-night Obama fundraiser.

The speech contrasted sharply with the partisan and left-leaning tone that dominated much of the evening as Democrats trotted out a litany of politically damaging remarks Romney had made, depicting the Republican as a man who would govern the country for the rich.

From "let Detroit go bankrupt" to "I like being able to fire people," convention speakers threw Romney's words back at him, sometimes forgoing context to highlight remarks that are likely to be featured in television advertisements over the next two months.

Immediately before Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard University professor and Democratic candidate for Senate from Massachusetts, cited another Romney line that Democrats delight in attacking.

Angry voters are right to feel that "the system is rigged," she said, and Romney would only worsen the inequity.

"No, Gov. Romney," she said, "corporations are not people."

But before making those attacks, party officials had to resolve some word problems of their own.

They departed from their carefully scripted proceedings to do damage control and reinstate language to their platform that referred to God and affirmed Jerusalem's status as Israel's capital, subject to negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

The language, which had appeared in the 2008 party platform, had been dropped this time around, but the party beat a hasty retreat after Republicans noticed the omission and pounced on it.

Democratic officials said the reversal of direction had been personally ordered by Obama.

"Why was it changed in the first place?" a Democratic official said Obama had asked when told of the removal of the language about God.

The answer to that question remained unclear Wednesday evening.

Having created a controversy with the platform, party officials planned a quick and quiet fix for the opening moments of the session.

But that too went awry as Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the convention's chairman, called for the vote in a partially empty hall, then wavered after hearing a significant number of delegates shout "No!"

Villaraigosa took a second vote. "I, uh -- I guess I'll do that one more time," he said, before calling for a third vote, after which he pronounced the amendment passed.

Because the vote was done solely by voice, it's unclear how many delegates were in the hall at the time or how many actually voted on either side.

The platform switch came as a rare departure from an agenda that otherwise mixed denunciations of Romney with testimonials to portions of Obama's record, including his auto industry bailout and his healthcare law.

Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of a Catholic social welfare organization, told delegates that the spending plan proposed by Romney's running mate, Rep. Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, was an "immoral budget that hurts already-struggling families."

Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, jabbed at Ryan and the "debt clock" that the Republican convention featured.

If Ryan had been honest, he would have pointed at the debt clock and said, "We built that," Van Hollen said, arguing that much of the debt stemmed from actions taken by the George W. Bush administration.

A sea of blue-and-white signs proclaiming "1.1 million auto jobs saved" greeted speeches about the administration's bailout of the auto industry.

Benita Veliz, an undocumented immigrant from San Antonio, praised Obama's decision this summer to provide protected status to illegal immigrants who had been brought to the United States as children.

Her appearance marked the first time that an acknowledged illegal immigrant had addressed either party's presidential nominating convention.

For his part, Romney laid low a second day, locked away in debate preparations 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."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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