Only four years ago, former President Bill Clinton was asked to take the stage at the Democratic National Convention to (rather reluctantly) give his shining endorsement to Barack Obama shortly after the up-and-comer from Illinois beat his own wife, Hillary Clinton, for the Democratic nomination for the presidency.
As Wednesday's most anticipated speaker at this year's DNC, Clinton was tasked with a far more difficult mission after four years of an Obama presidency: make himself heard over the political clutter to truly communicate to middle class Americans why the president -- not his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney -- with his economic policies is the person who will be able to pull the nation back from the brink of another recession.
And that's exactly what he did.
"The most important question is: What kind of country do you want to live in? If you want a you're-on-your-own, winner-take-all society, you should support the Republican ticket. If you want a country of shared prosperity and shared responsibility -- a we're-all-in-this-together society -- you should vote for Barack Obama and Joe Biden," Clinton said.
Clinton took the stage to formally nominate Obama for president at a time where he may be the most beloved political figure in the nation -- and not only among Democrats. With a 66 percent favorability rating, Clinton is enjoying a popularity rating he hasn't had since he was a newly elected president in 1993. Plus, as congressional Republicans attempt to cast Clinton as the picture of a practical, bipartisan Democratic president in order to demonize Obama as a left-wing socialist in comparison, the 42nd president is being praised by the same GOP leaders who criticized his policies in the 1990s.
Clinton walked onto the stage to thunderous applause following a video that played clips from his presidency, previous DNC appearances and work at the Clinton Global Initiative (Clinton has spoken at every convention since 1988).
"We are here to nominate a president. And I've got one in mind. I want to nominate a man whose own life has known its own fair share of adversity and uncertainty. By the way, after last night, I want to nominate a man who had the good sense to marry Michelle Obama," Clinton joked to a standing ovation, referencing the first lady's much-lauded Tuesday night speech that has been hailed as the best of the convention at this point.
Clinton stayed away from the social issue controversies that have dominated much of the 2012 campaign and stuck to a purely economic message. The former president jumped from tax policy to the financial crisis to science and technology innovation and health care reform, arguing that Obama's policies on those issues are those that will truly bolster the country's middle class.
"This Republican narrative, this alternative universe, says anyone in this room that has amounted to anything -- we're all completely self-made," Clinton said, before adding that, despite the fact that the GOP has occupied the White House for 28 years since 1961, during that time Republican presidents have overseen the creation of only 24 million private sector jobs.
But under Democratic presidents -- who have occupied the presidency for only 24 years since 1961 -- Clinton said 42 million private sector jobs were created, indicating that the party must be doing something right.
"There's a reason for this," Clinton said, discussing job growth under Democrats. "It turns out that advancing equal opportunities and economic empowerment is both morally right and good economics. Why? Because discrimination and ignorance stifle growth."
Obama's plans to boost educational opportunities via increased student loan aid, invest in science and new technologies and rebuild the nation's crumbling infrastructure are all policies that will stimulate economic growth, Clinton said.
Moreover, Clinton -- who, according to recent polling, is possibly the most popular political figure in the country -- argued that Obama's commitment to "constructive cooperation" in an almost toxically partisan Congress (more than once he referred to the oft-cited story of how Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in 2009 vowed that making Obama a one-term president was the main goal of the Republican Party) is a tribute to his strength.
And that effort at cooperation has not only been seen with Obama's attempts to reach out to congressional Republicans. The president, Clinton reminded the audience, even appointed his former rivals to top Cabinet positions following his election.
"Heck, he even appointed Hillary!" Clinton exclaimed to a roaring applause and standing ovation.
Clinton spent a good chunk of his speech attempting to debunk Republicans' economic attacks on Obama, dismantling Rep. Paul Ryan's Medicare overhaul plan in the House Republican budget (while praising Obama's efforts to strengthen the program) and lashing out against the party for producing campaign advertisements alleging the president has scaled back work requirements for welfare recipients.
And while opponents claim the economy has continued to decline under Obama, Clinton said his own presidency is an example that, sometimes, change is not always immediately apparent. For instance, while Clinton is often praised for leaving office with a record federal budget surplus, he recalled how he was criticized for not improving the economy fast enough back in 1994 and 1995. It was not until 1996, Clinton said, that the country began to see a noticeable economic improvement.
"No one could have fully prepared for all the damage that [President Obama] found in just four years," Clinton said, referring to the global financial crisis, resulting auto industry bailout, debt ceiling controversy, overseas wars and the almost unparalleled partisanship Obama inherited when he took office in January 2009.
But, if Obama is elected to a second term, his Democratic predecessor and one-time adversary insisted average American families will feel the difference. And it will be for the better.
"I want you to know I believe it. With all my heart, I believe it," Clinton said.
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