The Turn of the Tide: Clinton's DNC Speech

The former president's defense of Obama inspires a passionate believer in the Democratic agenda.

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(The Root) -- You gotta believe! President Bill Clinton, simply put, threw down last night at the Democratic National Convention. I say this as someone often troubled by his role in the 2008 presidential campaign. Right now what I can tell you is that, with remarkable eloquence and authority and the right dose of Arkansas folksy charm, Clinton lifted the spirits of Democrats nationwide.

More than that, he drew a clear road map for how Obama and other Democrats should now go about mobilizing the base and reaching out to undecided and independent voters.

For weeks, if not months, there have been doubts and deep worry among liberals about the prospects for Democrats and President Obama in 2012. To be sure, there is still every sign that this will be a hard-fought and close election contest. But after the first two nights of the Democratic convention, I feel more energized and much more optimistic.

First and foremost, Clinton articulated the core values that guided his own presidency and that equally informed Obama's first term. This agenda calls for a focus on the middle class; a commitment to responsibility and work; and investment in the foundations of middle-class growth and well-being, such as education and economic innovation. And the agenda means a consistent commitment to economic policies and a tax system that are fair, not dysfunctionally and divisively tilted toward the interests of the wealthy and powerful. He reminded us that we are all in this together.

In addition, he spelled out the fundamental flaws in the Republican strategy to this point. He deftly called out the astonishingly fact-free quality of Republican claims against Obama. With one word he debunked the Romney-Ryan budget and deficit-reduction plans: arithmetic!

And he made clear that it is fair -- indeed, essential -- that Republicans be held accountable for the proposals and policies of the hard-right coalition that now dominates the party and its agenda. Among these positions are the ending of abortion rights, the ending of health care reform, renewed tax breaks for the wealthy and a host of other steps backward.

Perhaps most important, Clinton addressed head-on the key Republican charge against Obama: namely, that he hasn't improved the economy. As Clinton put it, "No president ... could have repaired the damage in just four years."

There is little doubt that we are in a better position now than when Obama took office in January 2009. As Clinton pointed out, since 2010 we have been slowly, steadily digging out of the massive financial collapse of 2008. It is inarguably true that too many people are still without work or desperately struggling to make ends meet. But it is not credible to argue, as Clinton noted, that Romney's plan to "double-down on trickle-down" economics will do anything but make a hard situation worse and undo the progress we have made under President Obama.  

And God bless Bill Clinton's candor and unique skill at raising tough issues while keeping everybody listening. Clinton put on the table not only the obstructionist behavior of Republican members of Congress but also raised the fundamentally hateful character of how a large and now dominant segment of the Republican Party has dealt with President Obama. The people dictating the GOP's platform and posture in Congress have a mean-spirited, no-compromise, the-good-of-America-be-damned-so-long-as-we-win-and-the-Democrats-especially-Barack Obama-lose attitude. Surely most Americans will eventually recoil against this bitter, endless conflict and take-no-prisoners style of politics.

And Clinton made the case for why Obama's continuing openness to working with Republicans is not weakness but, rather, the very stuff of doing the business of the American people in the right way. It is time that other Democrats and indeed the mainstream media recognize the truth and wisdom of Clinton's message: Politics in a democracy can be "an honorable enterprise that advances the public interest," not merely the position of one party.

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