Aiming at independents, Bill Clinton defends Obama

Dan Balz / The Washington Post /

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Former president Bill Clinton delivered a spirited defense of President Barack Obama’s handling of the nation’s struggling economy here Wednesday night as he criticized the economic agenda of Republican Party nominee Mitt Romney and an opposition GOP he argued has been unwilling to compromise for the good of the country.

Clinton, in a speech to the Democratic National Convention formally nominating Obama, aimed his message squarely at independent voters. He said America is “clearly better off” than four years ago and argued that many of the serious problems ailing the economy were “inherited” from Republicans.

He said that, despite the slow recovery, Obama has spent the past four years laying the foundation for a more vibrant and balanced economy and needs four more years to see that vision through.

“The most important question is, what kind of country do you want to live in?” Clinton said, according to excerpts of his prepared remarks. “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.”

The former president took the stage just after 10:30 p.m. to a chorus of cheers and applause, with delegates waving signs that said, “Middle-Class First” and his 1992 campaign theme, “Don’t Stop Thinking about Tomorrow,” blaring on the public address system.

Clinton’s speech was the rhetorical and emotional highlight of the second day of the convention, which also featured a primetime address by Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic Senate candidate in Massachusetts, as well as a continuation of the attacks on Romney and appeals to many groups of voters, including women, Latinos, veterans and small-business owners.

After Tuesday’s strong opening-night program, Wednesday’s session ran into early problems, as the Democrats were forced to clean up two controversies in their approved platform. By voice vote, delegates approved changes to declare Jerusalem as the preferred capital of Israel and reinsert a reference to God, which had been omitted in the original text.

With the change on Israel policy, Democrats reversed an omission that drew sharp criticism from some Jewish organizations and from Republicans who saw it as evidence of Obama distancing the United States from a critical ally. Convention Chairman and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa called for a vote three times before ruling that the measure to add Jerusalem had passed, although some delegates booed from the convention floor.

Clinton also sought to define what Democrats say is a clear choice in November’s election, arguing that Republicans believe in “a parallel universe” about what makes the economy tick.

“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,” Clinton said.

Clinton talked at some length about how the GOP has become more rigid and uncooperative. “Though I often disagree with Republicans, I never learned to hate them the way the far right that now controls their party seems to hate President Obama and the Democrats,” Clinton said.

He said one reason Obama deserved re-election was that “he is still committed to constructive cooperation.”

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