Love or hate Bill Clinton, you have to admit that when the former president is on, he is on. Last night, he was on.
Going into the second night of the convention, there was some speculation that we could possibly see a recurrence of 1988 Bill Clinton -- the man who rambled on so long that his biggest applause line of that speech was "In conclusion." There were even conspiracy theories that he'd take the stage and somehow torch President Barack Obama's chances of winning.
What Clinton did was, for 45 minutes at least, lay out the case for Obama and the Democrats in a simple, professorial manner that pointed out the drawbacks of the other side without appearing to demonize them. Of course, Clinton, in his own way, did demonize the Republicans. But he did so with that downhome charm that worked so well with independents and swing voters when he ran for office.
Regarding the Republican convention, Clinton -- in a line that was apparently unscripted (or at least not in the prepared speech) -- said: "They convinced me they were honorable people who believe what they've said and they're going to keep every commitment they've made. We've just got to make sure the American people know what those commitments are."
He then reminded Democrats and voters at home about those commitments:
They want to cut taxes for high-income Americans even more than President Bush did. They want to get rid of those pesky financial regulations designed to prevent another crash and prohibit federal bailouts. They want to actually increase defense spending, over a decade, $2 trillion more than the Pentagon has requested, without saying what they'll spend it on. And they want to make enormous cuts in the rest of the budget, especially programs that help the middle class and poor children.As you can see, Clinton, like a good teacher, talked up the other side's positive points before breaking them down. And it was a full 15 minutes into the speech before he got to this point.
Prior to that , Clinton sounded like the bipartisan striver and triangulator that left-wing Democrats claim to despise, the sort of politician who ruined the true spirit of the party -- you know, the one that doesn't win general, nationwide elections. And Clinton took that tack to separate "reasonable" Republicans from the tea-party element he said has hijacked the party and run out good politicians because they don't "hate" the other side enough. He even went so far as to praise former Republican presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush -- even George W. Bush -- for their willingness to put partisan differences aside to get things done. (Eisenhower, in particular, was noted for his very active federal government.)
Those and other politicians, of both parties, he said, "didn't check their brains at the door. They didn't stop disagreeing. But their purpose was to get something done."
"The politics of constant conflict may be good," said Clinton, "but what is good politics does not necessarily work in the real world. What works in the real world is cooperation."
To be sure, Republicans at home were unlikely to be convinced by this speech. And Clinton glossed over the fact that extreme partisanship in some shape or form has been part of the political fabric since, well, the second presidential election in this country. He undoubtedly glossed over many other things and massaged stats and figures as politicians tend to do.
Keeping in mind that the conventions are extended infomercials and Clinton was making his pitch to the crowd at home more than preaching to the converted in the auditorium, how do you think he did?
Contributing: Cotton Delo.