In his fondest dreams, President Obama couldn’t have imagined getting any more from Bill Clinton than he did last night at the Democratic convention. Rather than pull Obama toward his centrist policies, Clinton embraced Obama’s hyper-liberalism—at least for one night.
Despite his well-known differences with Obama, Clinton made a stronger case for the president’s reelection than either Obama or his campaign have been able to muster. And some of the claims Clinton made for the Obama presidency go beyond what even the White House has asserted—well beyond.
The rousing Clinton speech was accompanied by his exaggerated body language—smiles, laughs, frowns, and nods—and the use of rhetorical devices such as alerting the convention that his next statement would be “important” and everyone should listen up.
But for all that, the whole Clinton performance worked, not only in the convention hall in Charlotte but also on television. Clinton is a master at delivering a speech to political audiences, whether or not the content is truthful or hot air.
The question is whether he actually believes half of what he said. People were slow in the mid-1990s to feel the effect of his own economic policies, Clinton said, but “by 1996 the economy was roaring.” Likewise with Obama, “conditions are improving” and if he gets a second term “you will feel it,” the former president insisted.
Yet there’s no evidence for thinking the Obama economy is soon to roar like Clinton’s. Quite the contrary, it is stagnant. Should all the tax hikes Obama favors go into effect in 2013, the result will be a new recession, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Clinton didn’t mention that.
He praised what he called “President Obama’s ‘all of the above’ energy plan.” Sorry, but that’s the Republican plan. Clinton credited Obama for promoting “the boom in oil and gas production.” Sorry again—Obama did all he could to impede increased oil and gas production.
Does Clinton really believe that Obama is “committed to cooperation” with Republicans? Not likely, but he went on to say Obama “tried to work with congressional Republicans on health care, debt reduction, and jobs.” Clinton was right only on debt reduction.
On health care, the president sought no input from Republicans and had his partisan allies on Capitol Hill, all Democrats, craft his health care legislation. They spurned Republicans, too. On jobs, the bill Clinton said Republicans blocked at the cost of one million new jobs failed in the Senate for lack of Democratic support.
And Clinton rushed to Obama’s defense on the recent watering down of the work requirement in the welfare reform bill Clinton signed in 1996. Surely Clinton knows the Obama plan for waiving the requirement won’t lead to “more work,” but that’s what he said.
And on and on and on—to the point that Clinton was so far over the top in lauding everything about Obama and his presidency that you might have thought it was a carbon copy of Clinton’s own presidency. It wasn’t. They were anything but two peas in a presidential pods.
That, to me, was the big surprise in Clinton’s speech. In his 1996 State of the Union Address, Clinton uttered this famous line: “The era of big government is over.” He followed with this: “We have worked to give the American people a smaller, less bureaucratic government in Washington. And we have to give the American people one that lives within it means.”
Obama has done the opposite, enlarging the federal government’s size and reach, running $1 trillion deficits for four years, and offering a budget that would add another $6 trillion in debt over the next decade. Yet Clinton, at least tacitly, embraced the Obama record.
On top of that, the Clinton wing of the Democratic party—that is, pro-business moderates and conservatives—has all but vanished since Obama became president. Certainly Obama has done nothing to keep even a remnant of it alive. If anything, he’s responsible for killing it.
So why did Clinton give Obama such a wildly affirmative endorsement for reelection? I think he had his reasons. He wants to remain viable as a major figure in the party. His wife Hillary may run for president in 2016. Just as important, he craves the love of Democrats. With last night’s speech, he kept that love flowing his way.