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Category: Politics

Both Clintons Deliver for Obama, With an Assist from Joe Biden

| August 28, 2008

It was a one-two punch from the Clintons.

Pundits praised their speeches on behalf of Barack Obama with every sports metaphor that exists: a knockout blow; a 10-strike, out-of-the-ballpark coup.

In essence, the speeches were spectacular. They constituted a laying on of hands from the Clintons to the Obamas, both Barack and Michelle.  

This shocked some, surprised many others, including the conspiracy theorists who insisted that Bill and Hillary remained aggrieved after the bruising primary campaign, that there had not been enough acknowledgement of the historic Hillary campaign, and that there was bad blood between Bill and Barack, especially.

Not any confirmation of that from the Clintons, however.

They rallied to the cause of taking back the White House, making sure John McCain and the Karl Rove attack strategists had few divisions among Democrats to exploit.

Former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan noted the new Bill Clinton, too. No more "Crazy Bill, the red-faced Rageaholic."

Wednesday night the country saw "Deft Political Pro Bill doing what no one had been able to do up to this point at the convention, and that is make the case for Barack Obama."

Until both Clintons spoke, she wrote, it had the look of a Clinton convention. "Now, oddly enough it isn't. Now eyes turn, and finally, to Obama. This was one of the great tee-ups."

It was a one-two punch in another way as well.

Hillary's Tuesday speech had won much admiration and insures she will be a player for years to come. That was insufficient for some critics. They said she hadn't praised Barack enough. She hadn't apologized for primary ads that insinuated he wasn't up to the job.

She hadn't said, in plain English, that he was qualified to be president.

Bill set the record straight Wednesday night. He knew what it took to be president, he said, and "Barack Obama is the man for this job."

"He has a remarkable ability to inspire people, to raise our hopes and rally us to high purpose. He has the intelligence and curiosity every successful president needs. His policies on the economy, on taxes, on health care, on energy are far superior to the Republican alternatives.

"He has shown a clear grasp of foreign policy and national security challenges and a firm commitment to rebuild our badly strained military," Clinton said.

"The long, hard primary tested and strengthened him. And in his first presidential decision, the selection of a running mate, he hit it out of the box."

Clinton had referred to his speech as a warm-up for the veep nominee, Joseph Biden. In reality, it all but eclipsed Biden and what he had to say.

But in the process, Clinton used his formidable rhetorical skills, including humor and sarcasm, to lay out lines of attack against the Republicans—in prime time.

He used positive economic growth statistics from his eight years in office to set the stage for riffs on the Republican record.

Productivity rose this decade with people working harder, producing more. "Now what did they get in return? Declining wages, less than one-fourth as many new jobs as in the previous eight years, smaller health care and pension benefits, rising poverty, and the biggest increase in income inequality since the 1920s."

Health care is a major problem, he said, and quoted parents with autistic children he met on the campaign trail who told him "they couldn't afford health care and couldn't qualify their children for Medicaid unless they quit work and starved or got a divorce.

"Are these the family values the Republicans are so proud of?"

And, he went on:

What about the military families pushed to the breaking point by multiple, multiple deployments?

What about the assault on science and the defense of torture?

What about the war on unions and the unlimited favors for the well connected?

And what about Katrina and cronyism?

Clinton talked about backsliding on arms control agreements, on a failure to use the power of diplomacy "from the Middle East to Africa to Latin America to Central and Eastern Europe," without mentioning Russia or its incursion into Georgia.

As the architect of key global trade pacts now under fire from many Democrats, Bill Clinton put his own spin on the issue.

Problems should not obscure opportunities, Clinton said. "Everywhere, in rich and poor countries alike, hard-working people need good jobs, secure, affordable health care, food and energy, quality education for their children and economically beneficial ways to fight global warming.

"These challenges cry out for American ideas and American innovation. When Barack Obama unleashes them, America will save lives, win new allies, open new markets, and create wonderful new jobs for our own people."

And Clinton said that Obama "knows that America cannot be strong abroad unless we are first strong at home. People the world over have always been more impressed by the power of our example than by the example of our power."

In a rare emphasis at this convention on the historic nature of Obama’s candidacy, Clinton called his life "a 21st-century incarnation of the old-fashioned American dream. His achievements are proof of our continuing progress toward the more perfect union of our founders' dreams. The values of freedom and equal opportunity, which have given him his historic chance, will drive him as president to give all Americans—regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or disability—their chance to build a decent life and to show our humanity, as well as our strengths, to the world."

And last, said the man from Hope, Arkansas, Obama "will lead us away from the division and fear of the last eight years back to unity and hope."