With middle-class angst threatening President Barack Obama’s re-election, Democrats turned to a more popular surrogate – Bill Clinton – to urge Americans to stick with the incumbent if they want to relive the “shared prosperity” of the 1990s.
Mr. Clinton, the last president to lead during a sustained economic boom, lent the full force of his political reputation to defending Mr. Obama’s presidency and rebutting GOP charges that Americans are worse off than four years ago.
“No president – not me, not any of my predecessors – could have fully repaired all the damage that he found in just four years,” Mr. Clinton told the Democratic convention on Wednesday night. “But he has laid the foundation for a new, modern, successful economy of shared prosperity. And if you will renew the President’s contract, you will feel it.”
After his speech, Mr. Clinton was joined on stage by Mr. Obama. Despite a history of prickly relations between them, the Obama White House has come to rely on Mr. Clinton as a more effective advocate for its economic policies among white, working-class voters, a group the President has struggled to connect with.
And on Wednesday, the former president was at his political best, skewering Republicans for their muddled math and “winner-take-all” morality. He methodically articulated the wisdom of Mr. Obama’s health-care law, tax proposals and education policies, arguing they would strengthen the middle class. Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s economic plan, he added, would deepen income inequality and widen the budget deficit.
“We simply cannot afford to give the reins of government to someone who will double down on trickle down,” Mr. Clinton said. “President Obama’s plan cuts the debt, honours our values, brightens the future of our children, our families and our nation … It passes the arithmetic test. And far more important, it passes the values test.”
The day after the U.S. federal debt surpassed $16-trillion, up more than $5-trillion since Mr. Obama took office, Mr. Romney cast the President’s record in a more sombre light.
“There’s just no way [Mr. Obama] can square those numbers with the idea that America is doing better, because it’s not,” Mr. Romney told reporters in Vermont on Wednesday.
Mr. Clinton drew his biggest applause when he ridiculed GOP vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan for accusing Mr. Obama of stripping Medicare of $716-billion over the next decade, even though Mr. Ryan proposed the same reductions in his 2011 budget proposal. The President would use the savings to fund provisions in his health-care law.
“You got to get one thing – it takes some brass to attack a guy for doing what you did,” Mr. Clinton quipped.
The former president lifted the mood of the convention following a day of disappointment and recrimination. After party officials cancelled plans to hold Mr. Obama’s Thursday address in a massive outdoor stadium, citing the threat of severe weather, they stoked the ire of many by amending the platform the convention had adopted only a day earlier.
The platform changes, reportedly made at Mr. Obama’s insistence, aimed to defuse GOP accusations that Democrats had spurned Israel by deleting a reference to Jerusalem’s status as its capital. The city’s status has been a source of bitter dispute with Palestinians.
In addition to restoring a mention of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, party officials also reinserted a reference to “God” in the document, after leaving that word out of the version adopted on Tuesday. Both additions were greeted with hearty boos by hundreds of delegates unhappy with the sudden about-face.
Delegates were united, however, in welcoming Mr. Clinton back to a stage he has occupied at every Democratic convention since 1988 – a testimony to his enduring popularity and political skills However, Mr. Clinton’s speech came right after that of Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren, underscoring intraparty divisions over economic policy. A hero of the Democratic left and a fierce critic of Wall Street, Ms. Warren blamed deregulation (enacted principally under Mr. Clinton) for excessive risk in the banking industry.
While the pro-business Mr. Clinton previously warned Democrats against criticizing Mr. Romney’s “sterling” career as a private-equity executive, and steered clear of any mention of it in his speech, Ms. Warren displayed no compunction in launching a thinly veiled attack on Mr. Romney’s wealth and use of offshore tax havens.
“People feel like the system is rigged against them. And here’s the painful part: They’re right,” Ms. Warren said. “I talk to nurses and programmers, salespeople and firefighters, people who bust their tails every day, and not one of them stashes their money in the Cayman Islands to avoid paying their fair share of taxes.”
Ms. Warren, a Harvard University professor tapped by Mr. Obama to set up the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau created under his Wall Street reform law, is currently locked in a neck-and-neck battle with Republican Senator Scott Brown.
Meanwhile, Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki justified the decision of party officials to cancel plans to hold Mr. Obama’s Thursday speech in Charlotte’s 65,000-seat Bank of America stadium. Instead, he will deliver his address in the same arena where the convention is being held, a venue that holds fewer than 20,000 people.
Party organizers had earlier expressed concerns about being able to fill the stadium. But Ms. Psaki cited weather concerns for the change of venue.