"We are here to nominate a president," said former president Bill Clinton, opening his prime time address on the second night of the Democratic National Convention. "And I've got one in mind." For the better part of the next hour, he delivered a detailed, animated endorsement of President Barack Obama and a firm denunciation of the modern Republican Party. It was, said MSNBC contributor and Republican strategist Steve Schmidt, an "extraordinary, virtuoso political performance."
In a wide-ranging speech that often strayed from the prepared remarks, Clinton dug deep into Obama's record, citing statistics and explaining specific provisions in the current president's health care policy, student loan policy, auto bailout, welfare waiver system, tax policy, approach to the national debt, and more.
Here, from the New York Times transcription of his remarks as they were delivered, is a representative passage:
So the president’s student loan is more important than ever. Here’s what it does — (cheers, applause) — here’s what it does. You need to tell every voter where you live about this. It lowers the cost of federal student loans. And even more important, it give students the right to repay those loans as a clear, fixed, low percentage of their income for up to 20 years. (Cheers, applause.)
Now what does this mean? What does this mean? Think of it. It means no one will ever have to drop out of college again for fear they can’t repay their debt.
And it means — (cheers, applause) — it means that if someone wants to take a job with a modest income, a teacher, a police officer, if they want to be a small-town doctor in a little rural area, they won’t have to turn those jobs down because they don’t pay enough to repay they debt. Their debt obligation will be determined by their salary. This will change the future for young America. (Cheers, applause.)
It wasn't all wonky detail, however. Clinton also brought a fair amount of acid to his description of the Republican Party's response. "It takes some brass to attack a guy for doing what you did," he said, after saying the Romney campaign was hypocritical in its attacks on Obama's Medicare policy. He also blamed Republican obstruction for America's persistent unemployment problem.
"Though I often disagree with Republicans, I actually never learned to hate them the way the far right that now controls their party seems to hate our president and a lot of other Democrats," he said. The Republicans' "number one priority" for Obama's first term, he went on, "was not to put America back to work; it was to put the president out of work."
"We’re going to keep President Obama on the job," he added, to roaring applause.
One of the newer line of attacks Clinton deployed in his speech was that the Romney would bankrupt Medicare by 2016. "He wants to go back to the old system, which means we’ll reopen the doughnut hole and force seniors to pay more for drugs, and we’ll reduce the life of the Medicare trust fund by eight full years," he said, adding: " That means, after all, we won’t have to wait until their voucher program kicks in 2023 to see the end of Medicare as we know it."
Though Clinton was there to present a unified Democratic front, he did allude to the famously acrimonious 2008 primary between his wife and Barack Obama. Noting that Obama appointed Hillary Clinton to be Secretary of State, Bill Clinton said, "I’m grateful for the relationship of respect and partnership she and the president have enjoyed and the signal that sends to the rest of the world, that democracy does not have to be a blood sport, it can be an honorable enterprise that advances the public interest." The "blood sport" line was not in his prepared remarks.
The Obama campaign reportedly did not know the contents of Clinton's speech before he delivered it, but based on the punditocracy's reaction, they must have been pleased with the response. "I'm sitting here, I'm giddy!" enthused MSNBC's Ed Schultz. "I mean, this is exactly what Barack Obama needed." MSNBC's Chris Matthews said Clinton "brought the center home."
Barack Obama appeared on stage shortly after Clinton's speech concluded, and the two embraced, before walking off together.