(The Root) — As the first former U.S. president to nominate a successive one for re-election, Bill Clinton made history last night. And he put aside his uneasy personal relations in his 49-minute speech to praise his erstwhile Democrat rival in the White House and to steamroll the GOP policy issues laid out at its recent convention.
The brunt of Clinton's statistics-laden attack aimed to eviscerate Romney-Ryan's economic proposals. "In Tampa," Clinton said, "the Republicans' argument against [President Obama's] re-election was pretty simple: We left him a total mess, he hasn't cleaned it up fast enough, so fire him and put us back in."
Clinton was uniquely suited to address the "mess" since both the GOP and Obama credit him for overseeing an expansive U.S. economy. The surplus he left President George W. Bush was squandered on the wrongheaded Iraq War and tax cuts for the wealthy that nearly bankrupted the economy during his final days in office.
The Republicans, by comparison, dared not showcase their former president at their national convention, not even incognito.
As president of a global foundation, Clinton treaded lightly with Bush 43rd, since he has fundraised with Bush-the-father and praised the AIDS initiatives of the son. "[President Obama] inherited a deeply damaged economy, put a floor under the crash, began the long, hard road to recovery and laid the foundation for a modern, more well-balanced economy that will produce millions of good new jobs.
"Are we where we want to be? No. Is the president satisfied? No. Are we better off than we were when he took office, with an economy in free fall, losing 750,000 jobs a month? The answer is YES."
Working mightily to hush the raucous crowd during his lengthy speech, Clinton lectured: "No one, not me, not any of my predecessors, could have repaired all of the damage [President Obama] found in just four years." The crowd erupted, "Four more years!"
In making the case for Obama's re-election, Clinton characteristically made no bones about the case being his, and (only) his to make. "What new ideas did we bring to Washington?" he asked in promoting his administration's surplus budget. "Arithmetic!"
Stirring beneath the history-making in the hall was the sociology of the first black president getting nominated by the faux black president. (Writer Toni Morrison proffered the perception once that the white man from Arkansas was the "first black president.")
All week the media were abuzz about the uneasy relations — some say hatred — between Clinton and the sitting president, who as junior senator from Illinois defeated the vaunted and highly favored Clinton machine, which featured wife Hillary as presidential candidate but would assure the return of "Big Dog" Clinton to the White House.
The post-nomination-speech photo of the two presidents embracing onstage last night was possible only because of "a carefully orchestrated reconciliation of sorts under way for some time," according to a smart piece in the current New Yorker.
The '08 riff erupted openly when Clinton attacked Obama's promotion of his candidacy as "the biggest fairy tale I have even seen!"
The usually cool Obama publicly construed the remark as racial innuendo about African Americans' chances of — as well as their qualifications for — getting elected U.S. president. The New York Times, even cooler and more cautious on such matters, said the "bizarre" statement from the former president stooped toward "injecting racial tension."
The ensuing feud, which split the two camps and sapped away black support from Clinton, was floated on the eve of the Democrats' convention in the Sept. 10 New Yorker. When Clinton attempted to get Sen. Ted Kennedy to endorse Hillary, Ryan Lizza reports that then-TV host Tim Russert told him that "according to his sources," Bill Clinton told Kennedy, "A few years ago, this guy would have been carrying our bags." (Another source reportedly remembered the metaphor as "getting us coffee.")
"We haven't been close friends a long time or anything like that," Clinton told NBC News earlier in the evening of the convention. However, he offered, "I'm actually more enthusiastic about [Obama] than I was four years ago … I've seen him dig in the dirt and fight, I've seen him make things happen, I've seen him criticized, demonized." Also, he's seen the president appoint his wife as U.S. secretary of state.
The suspension for one night at least of whatever discord that exists is a testament to Team Obama's skill at maneuvering — at whatever price — this pesky master of the maneuver. After he reportedly failed to persuade Hillary to resign as secretary of state and challenge the "incompetent" Obama this year, some still insist that Clinton is bent on getting her elected in 2016. An Obama second term, as opposed to Mitt Romney in office, would best suit that possibility.
"We're not kids anymore," Clinton told NBC's Brian Williams yesterday. "I have no idea if she'll ever run again; she says she won't. Right now, I want to help [Obama] because I think it will help my country."
And so, last night a slimmed-down Bill Clinton climbed up onstage at the Time Warner Cable Arena, finger wagging, and heartily declared: "We're going to keep President Obama on the job!"
Les Payne is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and frequent contributor to The Root.