Obama Turns to Bill Clinton, the Old Pro, to Help Win Reelection
President Obama is turning to Bill Clinton, his former foe, for a big lift at the Democratic convention in Charlotte, N.C.
The ex-president on Wednesday night will formally place Obama’s name into nomination with a speech aimed at reminding the American electorate that the policies Obama is pursuing are the ones that led to the nation’s longest period of economic expansion, during the 1990s.
Obama’s selection of Clinton for such a high-profile address is the latest evidence, for those who still need it, that the former president’s stinging criticism of Obama in 2008 and his occasional off-message comments in the years since are water under the bridge.
It also demonstrates that 20 years after his election to the presidency, Clinton remains the Democratic Party’s most effective economic messenger.
“President Clinton has a remarkable ability to explain things. He doesn’t talk down to people and he doesn’t talk over their heads,” said Paul Begala, a former adviser and longtime Clinton confidant. “His ability to explain these things is second to none.”
Clinton’s plainspoken style is a contrast to the lofty oratory that Americans have come to expect from Obama.
A prime-time speaking slot for Clinton has become as standard at Democratic conventions as the balloons and confetti. He has delivered an evening address every four years for nearly a quarter-century, and only in 1988 — when Clinton infamously droned on far too long — has his speech earned anything less than rave reviews.
Clinton gave lengthy talks in support of Vice President Gore in 2000 and Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) in 2004. His much-anticipated speech backing Obama in 2008 came just months after the Illinois senator’s bitter Democratic primary fight with then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), during which Bill Clinton likened Obama’s candidacy to “a fairytale” and dismissed his success in South Carolina as similar to that of the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s long-shot campaign in 1988.
The crux of Clinton’s speech in 2008 boiled down to 11 words: “Barack Obama is ready to be president of the United States.”
In the years since, Clinton has given Obama both help and heartburn. He served as a crucial surrogate in late 2010 as the president sought to sell the deal he struck with Republicans to extend the George W. Bush-era tax rates. But he’s also stepped on Obama’s campaign message from time to time, such as when he credited Mitt Romney for a “sterling” business career and seemed to suggest that the full slate of Bush tax cuts should again be extended.
“There’s no one better than President Clinton to lay out the clear choice Americans face in this election, between moving forward with President Obama or falling backward with Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, who support the same failed policies that led to the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression,” Obama campaign spokesman Adam Fetcher said.