Twenty-four hours after Michelle Obama delivered a magnum opus, it was Bill Clinton's turn to be the showstopper at the Democratic National Convention. In his nearly 50-minute speech, the former US president worked the 20,000-strong crowd in a way only he could do. Clinton used his legendary persuasive skills and command of facts to dismantle, one by one, charges Republicans made against President Obama in Tampa last week.
Clinton, who was first elected to the White House in 1992, during a trying time, with the slogan, "It's economy stupid", made a broad economic argument for the continuation of the Obama presidency. "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 modern, more well-balanced economy that will produce millions of good new jobs, vibrant new businesses, and lots of new wealth for the innovators," the former president said. He added: "No President - not me or any of my predecessors could have repaired all the damage in just four years. But conditions are improving and if you'll renew the President's contract you will feel it."
At the end of the speech, Clinton was joined on stage by Obama. The supposedly uneasy relationship between America's 42nd and 44th presidents has been a fodder for the media for a long time. But on Wednesday night, the relationship was anything but uneasy.
A second showstopper of the evening was Elizabeth Warren, a former Obama administration official who is running for Senate from Massachusetts. The Harvard professor, who is in a tight race against Sen. Scott Brown, warmed up the Democratic faithful with a fiery speech.
Wednesday night also saw Kamala Harris, the Indian American Attorney General of California, making her first national prime-time appearance. Poised and very combative, she talked about the importance of maintaining the "level-playing field" in the United States. A leader in the fight against large mortgage banks, Harris also stressed the theme of home ownership.
Obama speech to move indoors
The most disappointing news of the day was the moving of President Obama's acceptance speech from the outdoor Bank of America Stadium, which has a capacity to hold 70,000 people, to a much smaller venue, the Timer Warner Cable arena. The move was due to a thunder storm that is predicted to hit the Charlotte area tomorrow. The shift means only a third of the more than 65,000 people that purchased the tickets for the event could now be there in person to hear the president speak.
In 2008, Obama accepted the nomination at Denver's Invesco Field before a cheering crowd of 80,000. A big reason that speech, delivered with Greek columns in the background, was highly effective was the size and the enthusiasm of the crowd. The campaign and the convention organizers were expecting an encore from the president. Time Warner Cable Arena is the home of Charlotte Bobcats, the NBA team owned by Michael Jordan.
After Tampa and Charlotte, it is doubtful whether anyone can deny that a philosophic chasm exists between the Republican and the Democratic parties. At the Republican National Convention in Tampa last week, most of the speakers were celebrating individualism. There "government" was a bad word and a corrupt institution. Tax cut for the wealthy Americans was good thing. Everyone believed in trickle-down economics.
Here in Charlotte, speaker after speaker countered those arguments. "We simply can't afford to double-down on trickle-down," Bill Clinton said in one of the night's most popular zingers. Speakers also emphasized the power of the government to do good and to provide safety nets to the less privileged. They told the stories of people with humble beginnings who made incredible journeys to achieve the American Dream. They reaffirmed the notion that in America no hope is too high and no dream is too large for anyone to achieve.
Another striking thing about this convention is the remarkable diversity that is on display here. Democrats being the party of the minorities and immigrants, nearly all segments of the American society seemed to have represented here.
For Hollywood, Kal Penn's speech on Tuesday night was just a warm-up act. The real thing will be on Thursday night when several A-Listers are going to address the delegates. The celebrities likely to speak prior to President Obama's acceptance speech include Eva Longoria, Scarlett Johansson, Natalie Portman and Kerry Washington. Historically, Hollywood has been a big backer of the Democratic Party presidents. In this election cycle, a number of celebrities, among them, Barbara Streisand and George Clooney have raised money for Obama.
(Frank Islam, co-author of the book Renewing the American Dream: A Citizens Guide, is a member of the 2012 Democratic National Convention Host Committee.)