Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2008

Bill Clinton

He took the stage to his relentless anthem "Don't Stop (Thinking About Tomorrow)." The crowd stood and cheered until Clinton begged them to sit, and then he himself rose to the occasion with a decisive, hopeful and generous affirmation that "Barack Obama is ready to be President of the United States." This unambiguous declaration was the most important phrase uttered since the convention began. He cast the man who defeated his wife as his own rightful heir, after a Bush interregnum. Indeed, it seemed to be the exact speech he would have given had none of the months-long Obama-Clinton soap opera occurred — under the circumstances, a great gift to the nominee and the party.

The Clinton finger wagged as he identified his twofold mission — to support Barack Obama, and to warm up the crowd for Joe Biden. ("I LOOOVE Joe Biden, and America will too.") He praised his wife's campaign, then instructed all 18 million Hillary voters to cast ballots for Obama in November, enumerating the problems that have overtaken the nation since the end of the Clinton presidency. Clinton's tone was firm and self-assured, but decidedly magnanimous, and he gave a thoughtful, glowing assessment of Obama's personal charisma, family history and political agenda.

He also turned a cool eye on the opposition, rebuking the alleged evils and errors of the Bush administration with a sorrowful, disappointed "America can do better than that." He graciously praised the Republican nominee's honorable service and maverick Senate career, but deemed him unable to "rebuild the American Dream" and "restore America's leadership in the world," since "he still embraces the extreme philosophy which has defined his party for more than 25 years." Clinton concluded with a tender homage to his own 1992 convention acceptance speech: "Barack Obama will lead us away from division and fear of the last eight years back to unity and hope. If, like me, you still believe America must always be a place called Hope, then join Hillary, Chelsea and me in making Senator Barack Obama the next President of the United States."

Let's face it: while Obama is a marvelous speaker, Clinton is better, and he gave one great speech. The soap opera isn't over, but it won't dominate the rest of the convention.

by Mark Halperin