The Turn of the Tide: Clinton's DNC Speech

Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call/Getty Images
Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call/Getty Images

(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.

Many folks have been waiting to hear the positive message from the Democrats and especially from Obama. A seasoned political insider whose judgment I trust told me just two weeks ago, "We're not winning." His comment really worried me. He meant that attacks on Romney and his record at Bain Capital would not be enough to win the election. He's right.


This insider was still waiting for a positive message. Well, now that message is clear, and this convention has set the direction. The struggle for the soul of America is on. I have never been more confident that Democrats have the right and winning message and candidate in Barack Obama.

The first night of the Democratic convention began the strategy of holding the Republicans accountable for the hard-right-wing edge of their platform, dominant coalition and now nominees Romney and Ryan. The second night put plainly on the table Barack Obama's strong record of governing on the side of the middle class and a laser-sharp focus on what is best for the long-term future of America.


We now expect Barack Obama himself to pull it together Thursday night and lay out the future agenda and strategy that make him the right man to lead for the next four years. I do believe! Forward!

Lawrence D. Bobo is the W.E.B. Du Bois Professor of the Social Sciences at Harvard University.