CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Former President Bill Clinton delivered a rousing defense of President Barack Obama to the Democratic Party faithful here Wednesday, saying no president could have repaired in just four years the economic damage Obama inherited and that the country was better off in many ways than it was when the president took office.
Speaking on the second night of the Democratic National Convention, Clinton parsed Republican proposals and claims in detail, giving a tutorial on government programs while charging that the GOP presidential ticket had distorted Obama's record of achievement.
And the former president attacked head on the question that has dominated the last few days, bringing the crowd in the Time Warner Cable Arena to its feet shouting “Yes” when he asked if the country was better off than it was when Obama began his first term.
With Obama locked in a tight race with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Clinton took on the job of contrasting the president's policies with Republican proposals and making the case for a second Obama term. He also took on the official job of putting the president's name in nomination for a second term.
“I want to nominate a man whose own life has known its fair share of adversity and uncertainty,” Clinton said.
“A man who ran for president to change the course of an already weak economy and then just six weeks before the election, saw it suffer the biggest collapse since the Great Depression. A man who stopped the slide into depression and put us on the long road to recovery, knowing all the while that no matter how many jobs were created and saved, there were still millions more waiting, trying to feed their children and keep their hopes alive.
“I want to nominate a man cool on the outside but burning for America on the inside. A man who believes we can build a new American dream economy driven by innovation and creativity, education and cooperation. And, after last night, a man who had the good sense to marry Michelle Obama.”
The president came out to stand with Clinton after the speech, and the crowd chanted “We are fired up!”
Clinton, who left office more than a decade ago with the federal budget in surplus, said Republican policies had “quadrupled the debt before I took office and doubled it after I left. We simply can't afford to double-down on trickle-down.”
Clinton made several references to the “narrative” from the Republican National Convention last week and said the GOP believes “we're all completely self-made.”
“We Democrats think the country works better with a strong middle class, real opportunities for poor people to work their way into it and a relentless focus on the future, with business and government working together to promote growth and broadly shared prosperity,” he said. “We think ‘we're all in this together' is a better philosophy than ‘you're on your own.'”
State native speaks
Delivering a crowd-pleasing warm-up speech for Clinton, Oklahoma native Elizabeth Warren said people were right to think the game was rigged against them when “oil companies guzzle down billions in subsidies; billionaires pay lower tax rates than their secretaries; Wall Street CEOs — the same ones who wrecked our economy and destroyed millions of jobs — still strut around Congress, no shame, demanding favors and acting like we should thank them. Does anyone here have a problem with that? I do, too.”
Warren, a Harvard University professor who grew up in Oklahoma City, is challenging Republican U.S. Sen. Scott Brown in Massachusetts in one of the most closely watched races in the country. She chided Republicans for saying they don't believe in government.
“Sure they do,” Warren said. “They believe in government to help themselves and their powerful friends. After all, Mitt Romney's the guy who said corporations are people.
“No, Governor Romney, corporations are not people. People have hearts, they have kids, they get jobs, they get sick, they cry, they dance, they live, they love and they die. And that matters. That matters because we don't run this country for corporations, we run it for people. And that's why we need Barack Obama.”
The second night's program spanned most of the same territory as the first night, as the Obama campaign aimed its message at women, immigrants, organized labor, veterans and people who might be inclined to resent private equity firm owners, like Romney, responsible for layoffs.
Three speakers talked about losing their jobs at companies bought by Romney's investment company, Bain Capital, providing a counterpoint to stories told at the Republican National Convention last week about Bain building businesses that are still thriving.
Speech venue change
Early in the day, convention organizers decided to move the president's Thursday night speech away from the football stadium, where it was to be held, to the Time Warner Cable Arena because of the threat of storms, meaning tens of thousands of people won't be able to see Obama and Vice President Joe Biden speak and big name entertainers like Foo Fighters perform.
Some Oklahomans who are not delegates were here this week planning to get into the stadium for the president's speech, and a bus was headed to Charlotte on Wednesday carrying about 45 Oklahomans, Democrats here said.
Republicans also continued Wednesday to pound Obama's economic policies and contradict the claims being made here by Democrats.
Gov. Mary Fallin said Clinton's track record on the deficit and the economy were far different from Obama's. Clinton, she said, was able to balance the budget, while Obama “added $4 trillion in debt.”
One of the most memorable speeches of the night came from a member of Congress who is also a pastor.
The Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, of Missouri, ad-libbed much of his speech, calling first for less acrimony in Washington and then praising the president for believing in hope.
“Yes, Mr. President, hope on. Continue to hope, Mr. President.
“No matter what, Mr. President, you continue to hope! As long as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob sits on the throne of grace, hope on!”