Charlotte --The last Democratic president of the United States took a rock-star turn at his party's national convention Wednesday night, leveraging his outsized reputation as a master of governing -- and, more importantly, campaigning -- to make the case for the reelection of the current Democratic president.
It was a remarkable performance by a political wunderkind turned senior statesman. And it provided a powerful reminder that in the ex-president competition -- and there is an ex-president competition -- Bill Clinton has defeated George Bush, overwhelmingly.
Where two weeks ago, Bush was the former president whose name dare not be spoken at his party's national convention, Clinton was more than a revered elder returning to the warm embrace of his party's convention: he was a defining figure.
Even Democrats who were never Clinton fans -- and it is important to remember that there were a lot of them when he was president, and when he campaigned in 2008 to make former first lady Hillary Clinton, not Barack Obama, his partisan successor -- agreed that Bill Clinton did a damn fine job of framing what is all but certain to be the Obama message for the remainder of the 2012 campaign.
"In Tampa the Republican argument against the president's re-election was pretty simple: We left him a total mess, he hasn't finished cleaning it up yet, so fire him and put us back in," declared William Jefferson Clinton, who took the extraordinary step of nominating the man who did not only succeed him but who defeated Hillary Clinton for the opportunity to do so.
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"I like the argument for President Obama's re-election a lot better," Bill Clinton continued. "He inherited a deeply damaged economy, put a floor under the crash, began the long hard road to recovery, and laid the foundation for a more modern, more well-balanced economy that will produce millions of good new jobs, vibrant new businesses, and lots of new wealth for the innovators."
Clinton was charming the crowd, of course.
But he was doing much more than that.
He was offering them a way of thinking with regard to where the second term of a Democratic president might lead a country that remains fretful about an ailing economy will ever fully recover.
This was about the memory of a presidency that saw the creation of 22.7 million jobs, balanced budgets and surpluses. And, yes, it was about a measure of forgetfulness: especially with regard to Clinton's support for failed free-trade agreements and dysfunctional deregulations of the banking and financial-services industries.
No matter what the measure Americans make of Clinton, he has political capital. And he spent a good deal of that capital Wednesday to frame an argument for Barack Obama's re-election.
That argument proposed a game change. No more apologies. No more nuance. Democrats, Clinton said, should laugh off the attacks they heard from Tampa last week and run proudly on a record that -- if imperfect -- remains far superior to that of their Republican challengers,
The former president asked the questions America is asking. And he answered them as he says Democrats must: "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.
Despite a a bow to the old-fashioned bipartisanship of another age (hailing a Republican, Dwight Eisenhower, for sending troops to integrate the schools in Little Rock; recalling his work with Republican ex-presidents on international aid initiatives), Clinton came to this convention with a bluntly partisan bottom line:
"The Republican narrative is that all of us who amount to anything are completely self-made. One of our greatest Democratic Chairmen, Bob Strauss, used to say that every politician wants you to believe he was born in a log cabin he built himself, but it ain't so.