After panicking the entire left wing establishment in advance of his speech two nights ago to the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Bill Clinton ended up blowing everyone away by anointing Obama his successor, describing in no uncertain terms why he would be a great President:
“Everything I learned in my eight years as president and in the work I’ve done since, in America and across the globe, has convinced me that Barack Obama is the man for this job,” the former president said.
This was his answer to critics who said that while Hillary Clinton told the convention on Tuesday night she would support Obama, she failed to say she thought he would make a good president.
Bill Clinton put this right, offering fulsome praise for Obama for his “remarkable ability to inspire people” but also for his grasp of foreign policy and economics.
“Barack Obama is ready to lead America and restore American leadership in the world: ready to preserve, protect and defend the constitution of the United States. Barack Obama is ready to be president of the United States,” Clinton said.
More crucially however he also framed the upcoming battle in the simplest terms, bringing much needed relief to the Democratic Party which had until then struggled to present a simple narrative to overcome the ‘straight talking’ of John McCain:
“Barack Obama knows that America cannot be strong abroad unless we are strong at home,” he said People the world over have always been more impressed by the power of our example than by the example of our power.”
So, for example, the Obama campaign wants to tie McCain to George Bush but they have not quite known how to deal with the fact that McCain has more than once opposed Bush. Clinton showed them how: “As a senator, [McCain] has shown his independence on several issues,” he conceded. “But on the two great questions of this election” – the ones Clinton himself had just defined — McCain “still embraces the extreme philosophy” of the Bush Republicans. Instantly, Clinton had shown how to neutralise McCain’s “maverick” appeal: just say that on the issues that matter, he’s with Bush.
Healing ‘his’ party and getting the ball rolling against the most dangerous asset McCain still has – the man’s abilities really are unmatched. There are those who believe however that having the Democrats tying McCain to Bush isn’t a viable strategy:
I suspect that the charge that Senator McCain is running for the third Bush term will not, in the end, stick. The Arizona senator is not George Bush, and Democrats, and I suspect voters, know that.
On the big issues that will confront the next president, in fact Senator McCain offered a sharply divergent approach. When President Bush was fiddling two years ago as Iraq burnt, Senator McCain was urging a change of strategy, one that has now borne fruit for the US.
While President Bush was gazing into Valdimir Putin’s eyes and seeing the purity of his soul, Senator McCain was giving warning of the dangers of a resurgent and authoritarian Russia. While the President was cementing a governing style that emphasised maximal partisanship, Senator McCain was building bipartisan coalitions with Democrats in Congress.
But this is a seriously flawed analysis. If it were a line-by-line comparison made between them, then fair enough – McCain has disagreed with Bush on a number of occasions, but as Clinton illustrated – not on the issues which are in play in this election. He painted a very clear picture of what a McCain Presidency and McCain America would look like, and it wasn’t pretty:
They (the Republican Party) took us from record surpluses to an exploding national debt; from over 22m new jobs down to 5m; from an increase in working family incomes of $7,500 to a decline of more than $2,000; from almost 8m Americans moving out of poverty to more than 5 and a half million falling into poverty – and millions more losing their health insurance.
Now, in spite of all the evidence, their candidate is promising more of the same: More tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans that will swell the deficit, increase inequality and weaken the economy. More Band-aids for healthcare that will enrich insurance companies, impoverish families and increase the number of uninsured. More going it alone in the world, instead of building the shared responsibilities and shared opportunities necessary to advance our security and restore our influence.
He left it clear that ‘maverick Conservatism’ would be as disastrous as Bush’s ‘compassionate Conservatism’ in 2000. From more tax cuts for the wealthy, continuing the acceleration of already unparalleled inequality in the country, to perhaps fatally undermining the UN, he showed where McCain would unquestionably fit, in trying to continue his party’s run of failed policies at home and abroad.
Considering just how much animosity there had been between Obama and Clinton throughout the former’s primary battle with Clinton’s wife, it astounded most commentators that he was able even to put that to rest once and for all. I guess he really does care about his place in history. If this speech turns instrumental in getting Obama elected, he’ll most certainly have assured it.
And in one extraordinary passage, he offered the way to a full reconciliation with Obama. Recalling his 1992 campaign, he said: “The Republicans said I was too young and too inexperienced to be Commander-in-Chief. Sound familiar?” He was declaring that Obama was like him, almost his political heir — and that may be the greatest endorsement of all.
If the American public was listening, there is every indication that that should have a powerful effect – after all he’s saying ‘you took a chance on me and you were right – do it again for him.’ Likening Obama to him, a President who at his nadir remained more popular than the idiot incumbent, was indeed a shining moment. And as the Guardian reported, he followed with the right conclusion too:
“Sounds familiar? It didn’t work in 1992 because we were on the right side of history. And it won’t work in 2008 because Barack Obama is on the right side of history.”
He might well be right – after all in 1992 he faced, as Obama does now, a highly respected Republican opponent, who nonetheless was a weak candidate. A lot’s different now – the speed of the media, the concentration of media ownership, the lingering (and unpredictable) effect of 9/11, not to mention a wildly transformed demographic to appeal to. But he is right that history is on their side. Now they have to put their hard work this week into concrete action and (as in 1992) take McCain’s strengths apart to display his numerous weaknesses, and win this thing. Here’s the speech in its entirety: