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Only Obama and Democrats will bring 'shared prosperity,' Clinton tells enthusiastic crowd

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 5, 2012 - CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Bill Clinton, the nation’s last Democratic president, offered a point-by-point passionate defense Wednesday night of the policies of the current one – President Barack Obama – to make the case that his re-election was crucial to the nation's economic future.

Addressing thousands at the party’s Democratic National Convention, Clinton sought to burnish Obama’s credentials while chipping away at Republican rival Mitt Romney, whose party had attacked Obama’s performance and policies during their convention last week.

“In Tampa, the Republican argument against the president's re-election was actually pretty simple, pretty snappy,” Clinton said. “It goes like this: ‘We left him a total mess, he hasn't cleaned it up fast enough, so fire him and put us back in.’ ”

Clinton asserted that Obama is making strong progress, with 4.5 million new jobs and a largely stabilized housing industry. The problem, Clinton acknowledged, is that “most people don’t feel it yet.”

“If you renew the president’s contract, you will feel it,” Clinton said.

"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,” Clinton said. “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."

During a 48-minute speech, which went much longer than scheduled, Clinton decried the Republicans as generally big on talk and small on action. He asserted that Americans should be wary of the GOP’s promise to cut spending and the federal debt, saying their record has proven otherwise.

“Remember, Republican economic policies quadrupled the debt before I took office and doubled it after I left,” said Clinton, who was in office from 1993-2001. “We simply can't afford to double-down on trickle-down. “

Romney’s proposals, said Clinton, often have boiled down to “ ‘See me about that after the election.’”

In contrast, asserted Clinton, “President Obama's plan cuts the debt, honors our values, and brightens the future for our children, our families and our nation.”

But the most important fact about Obama, Clinton said early on, was that he’s “cool on the outside, burns for America on the inside.”

Romney's campaign issued a swift response, telling Fox News, “President Clinton drew a stark contrast between himself and President Obama tonight. Bill Clinton worked with Republicans, balanced the budget, and after four years he could say you were better off. Barack Obama hasn’t worked across the aisle – he’s barely worked with other Democrats – and has the worst economic record of any president in modern history. President Clinton’s speech brought the disappointment and failure of President Obama’s time in office clearly into focus.”

Clinton headlined a litany of speakers on Wednesday – including Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic U.S. Senate candidate in Massachusetts – who praised Obama’s policies and plans, a day after his wife, Michelle Obama, wowed the convention with her testament to his character.

But it was Clinton who whipped up the Democratic crowd into a frenzy.

Despite his speech’s length, in line with Clinton’s reputation, the former president kept the audience rapt – and often on their feet – with an address that formally was a nominating speech. At the end of the speech, Obama strode on stage and gave the former president a big hug.

Within minutes afterward, the roll-call of the states got underway. Missouri Democratic Party chairman Mike Sanders announced that he was delivering 99 state delegates to Obama; three others were absent.  Ohio's delegation delivered the votes that put the president over the top, formally making him the Democratic nominee.

The crux of Clinton’s comparison was that the Republicans aren’t telling Americans what they truly plan to do because the public will reject it.

“You see they want to go back to the same old policies that got us into trouble in the first place," Clinton said in the prepared version of his remarks, which he often tweaked during delivery. "To cut taxes for high-income Americans even more than President Bush did; to get rid of those pesky financial regulations designed to prevent another crash and prohibit future bailouts; to increase defense spending $2 trillion more than the Pentagon has requested without saying what they'll spend the money on; to make enormous cuts in the rest of the budget, especially programs that help the middle class and poor kids.”

“As another president once said – there they go again,” Clinton declared, referring to Republican icon Ronald Reagan.

He also slammed the GOP for spreading falsehoods about Medicare and welfare. Clinton emphasized that the Obama administration has not eliminated any work requirements for welfare recipients, and is not cutting $716 billion in Medicare benefits. (National Republicans immediately issued statements defending the Romney-Ryan claims, which have been refuted by nonpartisan fact-checkers.)

Clinton explained that the $716 billion is cut from future growth in payments to providers and insurance companies and noted that the same cut – but in benefits – is in the budget proposal of Romney’s running mate, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

“It takes some brass to attack a guy for doing what you did,” Clinton said, touching off one of several waves of cheers and standing ovations.

Clinton contended that the Republican proposals to turn Medicare into a voucher program, while also making cuts, will actually cause the program to go bankrupt by 2016. “They’re going to do it to us sooner than we thought,” he quipped.

In contrast, he said, Obama “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.

“Now, are we where we want to be today? No. Is the president satisfied? Of course not!” Clinton said. “Are we better off than we were when he took office … The answer is YES. “

Speeches overshadow fight over platform

Clinton’s address Wednesday night was well-timed, from a political standpoint, since it’s likely to blunt the coverage of the day’s other hot news -- the last-minute tweak in the Democratic platform, ordered by Obama, to reinsert the word “God” and reinstate the longstanding language in both parties’ platforms that calls Jerusalem the true capital of Israel, not Tel Aviv.

Republicans had pounced on both omissions shortly after the Democratic platform was approved Tuesday. But the GOP buzz really erupted Wednesday, as video circulated about the combative afternoon floor vote that ensued over the additions. Twitter was filled with disparaging criticism.

National Democratic Party chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz issued a statement seeking to tamp down the controversy over the Jerusalem issue. “The platform is being amended to maintain consistency with the personal views expressed by the President and in the Democratic Party platform in 2008,” she said.

"Our party platform already expresses strong support for the peace process and makes clear the steps that any Palestinian partner must take to be a part of such a process -- recognizing Israel’s right to exist, rejecting violence, and adhering to existing agreements.”

The revised language reads, “Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel. The parties have agreed that Jerusalem is a matter for final status negotiations. It should remain an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths.”

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.