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Bill Clinton Captivates Delegates, Nominates Obama


It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning. Renee Montagne is back at NPR West. Renee, welcome back.


Thank you very much. After a nice vacation, and so glad to be here, because big news: President Obama speaks to the Democratic Convention tonight. Just as with Mitt Romney last week, the president will have a huge audience to make his case.

INSKEEP: Four years ago in Colorado, the Obama campaign put their man in an outdoor stadium filled with tens of thousands of supporters. A plan to repeat that in Charlotte was called off due to possible thunderstorms. The president will speak indoors at the arena where the rest of the convention is held.

MONTAGNE: Last night, former President Bill Clinton offered a passionate argument for returning Barack Obama to office. Bill Clinton was the star of the night, a night that also offered a few surprises, as NPR's Mara Liasson reports.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Day two of the Democratic Convention delivered some news that wasn't in the original script. On Tuesday, the Democrats had adopted a platform that dropped a reference to Jerusalem as the capitol of Israel and the use of the word God - as in God-given potential. Both had been in the 2008 platform.

After Republicans and some Jewish groups protested, and at the urging of President Obama, the 2008 language was restored last night, but not until the convention floor had taken three voice votes, the outcome of which was unclear.

With that controversy awkwardly resolved, it was on to the task at hand: eviscerating Mitt Romney and promoting Barack Obama.


ELIZABETH WARREN: The Republican vision is clear: I've got mine. The rest of you are on your own.

LIASSON: Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts Senate candidate and the godmother of the new Consumer Finance Protection Agency, told the Democrats that for many years, the middle class had been chipped, squeezed and hammered. People feel the system is rigged, she said, and they're right.


WARREN: Billionaires pay lower tax rates than their secretaries. And Wall Street CEOs, the same ones who wrecked our economy and destroyed millions of jobs, still strut around Congress, no shame, demanding favors, and acting like we should thank them. Does anyone here have a problem with that? Yeah, well, I do, too.

LIASSON: Warren is a hero to the liberal grassroots base of the Democratic Party. But she's been struggling as a retail politician in Massachusetts. Even in that deep blue state with Barack Obama on the top of the ticket, she's been running behind the incumbent Republican, Scott Brown.

Last night, Warren delivered a fiery populist attack on Romney and Paul Ryan for a budget that she said would, quote, "pulverize financial reform, voucherize Medicare and vaporize Obamacare." But Barack Obama, Warren declared, believes in a country where everyone is held accountable.


WARREN: Where no one can steal your purse on Main Street or your pension on Wall Street. President Obama believes in a country where we invest in education, in roads and bridges, in science and in the future, so we can create new opportunities so the next kid can make it big, and the kid after that, and the kid after that. That's what president Obama believes.

LIASSON: After Warren, came the main event of the evening.


PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: We are here to nominate a president, and I've got one in mind.

LIASSON: It was the first time a former president had placed the name of an incumbent in nomination. And Bill Clinton jumped right into a rebuttal of the Republican's argument.


CLINTON: In Tampa a few days ago, we heard a lot of talk, oh, about how the president and the Democrats don't really believe in free enterprise and individual initiative, how we want everybody to be dependent on the government, how bad we are for the economy. This Republican narrative, its alternative universe says that every one of us in this room who amounts to anything, we're all completely self-made.

LIASSON: Every politician wants you to believe he was born in a log cabin that he built himself, Clinton said, but it ain't so.


CLINTON: We Democrats, we think the country works better with a strong middle class, with real opportunities for poor folks to work their way into it, with a relentless focus on the future, with business and government actually working together to promote growth and broadly shared prosperity. You see, we believe that we're all in this together is a far better philosophy than you're on your own.

LIASSON: Clinton went through all the Republican's arguments, answering each charge on welfare, health care and the assertion that President Obama has cut $716 billion from Medicare.


CLINTON: Now, when Congressman Ryan looked into that TV camera and attacked President Obama's Medicare savings as, quote, "the biggest, coldest power play," I don't know whether to laugh or cry, because that $716 billion is exactly, to the dollar, the same amount of Medicare savings that he had in his own budget. You got to get one thing: It takes some brass to attack a guy for doing what you did.

LIASSON: It was vintage Clinton: long, almost 50 minutes, mixing policy details and folksy humor and fueled by a conviction that if he just keeps talking, he can win over every last member of the audience. Here's how Clinton set up the choice in this election.


CLINTON: In Tampa, the Republican argument against the president reelection was actually pretty simple, pretty snappy. It went something like this: We left him a total mess. He hadn't cleaned it up fast enough, so fire him and put us back in.

LIASSON: But, Clinton said, there's an alternative.


CLINTON: I like the argument for President Obama's reelection a lot better. Here it is: He inherited a deeply damaged economy. He put a floor under the crash. He 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.

LIASSON: But that's an aspirational argument, and the Republicans are quick to point out that President Obama has not produced those millions of good new jobs yet. President Clinton had an answer for that, too.


CLINTON: Are we where we want to be today? No. Is the president satisfied? Of course not. But are we better off than we were when he took office?


LIASSON: The answer is yes, Clinton said, but he knows how hard that argument is to make with 8.3 percent unemployment and $16 trillion in debt. So Clinton kept trying, acknowledging that Americans have yet to feel the improvement.


CLINTON: No president - not me, not any of my predecessors - no one could have fully repaired all the damage that he found in just four years. But he has laid the foundations for a new, modern, successful economy, a shared prosperity. And if you will renew the president's contract, you will feel it. You will feel it.

Folks, whether the American people believe what I just said or not may be the whole election. I just want you to know that I believe it. With all my heart, I believe it.

LIASSON: Mr. Clinton was talking to the larger audience watching on television, but inside the arena, delegates were thrilled. Clementine Bass of Pine Bluff, Arkansas would have been happy to hear him talk for another 50 minutes.

CLEMENTINE BASS: Oh, I loved it. I mean, it was like we were home and he was telling us a story, and it was very vivid. I enjoyed it. I really did.

LIASSON: Then President Obama walked onto the stage. The two presidents embraced. That was the point of the evening, to link the memories of Bill Clinton's record of peace and prosperity to President Obama, and to see if some of the former president's remarkable popularity can transfer to the man who gets to make his own case for a second term tonight. Mara Liasson, NPR News, Charlotte. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.