He looked great. He sounded great. And with a smile on his face he stuck a dagger in the heart of that monster we know as Tea Party Republicanism.
Bill Clinton’s speech was extraordinary and had to be seen to be fully appreciated. As Steve Schmidt, who essentially ran John McCain’s 2008 campaign, said:
I wish to God, as a Republican, we had someone on our side who had the ability to do that. We don’t. It would be great if we did. Just an amazing performance.
Anyone who lived through the wounded Clinton presidency—some of those wounds self-inflicted—who watched Republicans try to destroy him through slander and impeachment, had to marvel at this early part of Wednesday night’s speech:
Now, there’s something I’ve noticed lately. You probably have too. And it’s this. Maybe just because I grew up in a different time, but 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.
If there ever was a Democratic president who was hated with the same ridiculous hatred that characterizes Republican opposition to President Obama, it was Bill Clinton. I mean, Republicans seriously suggested that Clinton had someone murdered for God’s sake, and a fundamentalist creep and popular Republican preacher named Jerry Falwell heavily promoted a film alleging other murderous crimes.
Yet in that one remarkable sentence—”I actually never learned to hate them“— Clinton managed to put himself up above all their hate and by extension lifted Mr. Obama above it too.
Early in the speech, Clinton cited his history of cooperating with Republicans, like Reagan and both Bushes, to get things done, and then he pulled out his Clintonian dagger and began stabbing at the cause of our political ills:
Why does cooperation work better than constant conflict?
Because nobody’s right all the time, and a broken clock is right twice a day.
And every one of us — every one of us and every one of them—we’re compelled to spend our fleeting lives between those two extremes, knowing we’re never going to be right all the time and hoping we’re right more than twice a day.
Unfortunately, the faction that now dominates the Republican Party doesn’t see it that way. They think government is always the enemy, they’re always right, and compromise is weakness. Just in the last couple of elections, they defeated two distinguished Republican senators because they dared to cooperate with Democrats on issues important to the future of the country, even national security.
They beat a Republican congressman with almost a hundred percent voting record on every conservative score, because he said he realized he did not have to hate the president to disagree with him. Boy, that was a nonstarter, and they threw him out.
And after that dagger hit its Tea Party target, he wiggled it around with this appeal to independent voters:
One of the main reasons we ought to re-elect President Obama is that he is still committed to constructive cooperation.
“Still committed.” After all the hate thrown his way, Mr. Obama is still willing to work with Republicans who are willing to work with him. Clinton said that President Obama “tried to work with congressional Republicans on health care, debt reduction, and new jobs,” but “that didn’t work out so well.” Why? The other side’s “number one priority was not to put America back to work; it was to put the president out of work.”
David Corn remarked that no one can “merge passion and policy” like the “master” Bill Clinton. In a mere 48 minutes he managed to tell Americans, in plain language and with great detail, why Barack Obama’s first term was remarkably productive, why folks should give him another one, and, knife in hand, why Republicans are offering nothing new:
In Tampa, the Republican argument against the president’s re-election was actually pretty simple — pretty snappy. It went something like this: We left him a total mess. He hasn’t cleaned it up fast enough. So fire him and put us back in.
…they want to the same old policies that got us in trouble in the first place. 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 future 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.
And later he twisted the knife even more:
We simply cannot afford to give the reins of government to someone who will double down on trickle down.
He attacked Republicans for their poor “arithmetic“; their past and future deficits; their additional “$5 trillion in tax cuts heavily weighted to upper-income people“; their lack of budget specificity; their lies about Medicare cuts and welfare to work waivers; their desire to repeal “ObamaCare”; their voter suppression efforts; and, most important because it is most neglected, he attacked them for their proposed Medicaid cuts:
Now, folks, this is serious, because it gets worse. (Laughter.) And you won’t be laughing when I finish telling you this. They also want to block-grant Medicaid, and cut it by a third over the coming 10 years.
Of course, that’s going to really hurt a lot of poor kids. But that’s not all. Lot of folks don’t know it, but nearly two-thirds of Medicaid is spent on nursing home care for Medicare seniors — (applause) — who are eligible for Medicaid.
(Cheers, applause.) It’s going to end Medicare as we know it. And a lot of that money is also spent to help people with disabilities, including — (cheers, applause) — a lot of middle-class families whose kids have Down’s syndrome or autism or other severe conditions. (Applause.) And honestly, let’s think about it, if that happens, I don’t know what those families are going to do.
How often have you heard the Romney-Ryan Medicaid cuts even discussed, let alone discussed in such personal terms?
Clinton raved about Obama’s “recovery program,” which “saved or created millions of jobs” and “cut taxes for 95 percent of the American people.” He noted the 29 months of job creation and the 4 1/2 million private sector jobs produced and couldn’t help twisting the dagger again:
We could have done better, but last year the Republicans blocked the president’s job plan, costing the economy more than a million new jobs.
He touted the “500,000 manufacturing jobs” created since the recovery began and praised the “auto industry restructuring” which “saved more than a million jobs.” And he added:
There are now 250,000 more people working in the auto industry than on the day the companies were restructured.
And another knife twist:
…we all know that Governor Romney opposed the plan to save GM and Chrysler. (Boos.) So here’s another job score. Are you listening in Michigan and Ohio and across the country? (Cheers.) Here, here’s another job score: Obama, 250,000; Romney, zero.
Clinton also praised Obama for something I haven’t often heard Obama take credit for himself:
Now, the agreement the administration made with the management, labor and environmental groups to double car mileage, that was a good deal too. It will cut your gas prices in half, your gas bill. No matter what the price is, if you double the mileage of your car, your bill will be half what it would have been. It will make us more energy independent. It will cut greenhouse gas emissions. And according to several analyses, over the next 20 years, it’ll bring us another half a million good new jobs into the American economy.
He extolled the President’s energy policies. He lauded his education policies—particularly the student loan overhaul, which “means no one will ever have to drop out of college again for fear they can’t repay their debt,” and,
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.
Wow. Why haven’t we heard much about that before now?
Clinton took on Republicans on health care reform, defending ObamaCare robustly. He talked about the billion-dollar-plus in refunds to individuals and businesses because insurance companies didn’t spend enough on health care after taking our premiums. He talked about how the law is pressuring insurance companies to “lower their rates” to comply with the law’s health care spending requirement.
He talked about the “3 million young people between 19 and 25” getting insurance on their parents’ policies and the “millions of seniors” receiving preventive care and “millions of new customers” for insurance companies, many of those customers “middle-class people with pre-existing conditions who never could get insurance before.”
He also mentioned something I didn’t know:
Now, finally, listen to this. For the last two years — after going up at three times the rate of inflation for a decade, for the last two years health care costs have been under 4 percent in both years for the first time in 50 years.
Why haven’t I heard that?
With the audience fully and energetically his, Clinton ended with a plea to vote and re-elect President Obama, which began this way:
Look, I love our country so much. And I know we’re coming back. For more than 200 years, through every crisis, we’ve always come back. (Cheers.) People have predicted our demise ever since George Washington was criticized for being a mediocre surveyor with a bad set of wooden false teeth. (Laughter.) And so far, every single person that’s bet against America has lost money because we always come back. (Cheers, applause.) We come through every fire a little stronger and a little better.
And we do it because in the end we decide to champion the cause for which our founders pledged their lives, their fortunes, their sacred honor — the cause of forming a more perfect union.
Ah. That is the Democratic Party’s raison d’etre, its reason for being. I have never heard a contemporary Republican emphasize “the cause of forming a more perfect union.” Rather than working on a better national union these days, they are trying like hell to disturb what unity we have.
Finally, I want to end with something Bill Clinton said early on in his speech that illustrates, I think, the morality and practicality of continuing to find ways to perfect our union:
It turns out that advancing equal opportunity and economic empowerment is both morally right and good economics, because discrimination, poverty, and ignorance restrict growth, while investments in education, infrastructure and scientific and technological research increase it, creating more good jobs and new wealth for all of us.
It will be the realization of this Democratic vision, a vision of equality and empowerment, of combating discrimination, poverty, and ignorance, that will not only bring new wealth to all, but it will bring us closer together as a people, that elusive cause the Founders championed.