Former President Bill Clinton formally nominated President Barack Obama in a lively speech at the Democratic National Convention Wednesday, asserting that Obama "laid the foundation for a new modern successful economy, a shared prosperity" and deserves another four years to finish what he started.
Headlining the convention's second night, Clinton described his one-time rival as "a man who believes with no doubt that we can build a new American dream economy." And he ridiculed Republicans' argument at their convention in Tampa last week that Obama has failed to reverse the economic downturn that he inherited in 2008.
"In Tampa, the Republican argument against the president's re-election was actually pretty simple, pretty snappy. It went something 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 said.
"I like the argument for President Obama's re-election 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 more modern, more well-balanced economy that will produce millions of good new jobs, vibrant new businesses, and lots of new wealth for innovators."
Clinton, basking in the attention of the national stage, delivered his message in a mix of plain speak, policy talk and personal anecdotes that made the convention crowd go wild. His appearance was scripted to remind people about his presidency, which many Democrats consider the good old days. His arrival on stage was accompanied by his original campaign song, Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop."
Clinton even thanked Obama for hiring his wife, Hillary, as secretary of state, to which the convention crowd roared.
President Obama made his first appearance at the convention after the speech, joining Clinton on stage, where the two former rivals shook hands and hugged.
Clinton portrayed the election as a choice between an outdated and unsuccessful Republican philosophy of trickle-down economics and the Democratic approach of mixing personal responsibility with government investment.
At times Clinton smiled genially and soaked in the applause, and when the topic turned more somber, he pointed his fingers and reminded his audience, "folks, this is serious."
"If you want a winner-take-all, you're-on-your-own society, you should support the Republican ticket," Clinton said. "If you want a country of shared opportunities and shared responsibilities, a 'we're-all-in-it-together' society, you should vote for Barack Obama and Joe Biden."
Clinton, who left office in 2001 with the economy flourishing and the federal budget balanced, remains one of American politics' most popular figures. His relationship with Obama has been rocky, dating back to Obama's primary battle against Hillary Clinton four years ago.
But on Wednesday that enmity was forgotten, as Clinton portrayed Obama as a kindred spirit who faced many of the same conditions that he encountered upon taking office in 1992. Clinton argued that it wasn't until his second term that most Americans began to feel the effect of his economic policies.
"No president, not me, not any of my predecessors, no one could have fully repaired all the damage he found in just four years," Clinton said. "But he has laid the foundation for a new modern successful economy, a shared prosperity and if you will renew the president's contract, you will feel it."
Clinton devoted about half his speech to a detailed analysis of Obama's initiatives aimed at fixing the economy: The Recovery Act, the bailout of the auto industry, an energy plan that emphasizes greater efficiency, lower student loan costs, the controversial health care overhaul, a plan to cut the national debt.
"I know we're better off because President Obama made the decisions he did," Clinton said.
He also delivered a withering criticism of the GOP ticket and some of its biggest gripes about Obama. He debunked the Republican charge that Obama gutted the welfare-to-work law, which Clinton signed as president, and that Obama plans to raid Medicare of more than $700 million.
Clinton, who made a career of working with members of the opposing party, charged that the current GOP was dominated by a right wing that thrived on hate and division.
"Democracy does not have to be a blood sport. It can be an honorable enterprise that advances the public interest," Clinton said.
"Barack Obama, he is still committed to constructive cooperation."
Then Clinton turned to the GOP platform, arguing that Mitt Romney's plan to balance the federal budget "fails the first test of fiscal responsibility: the numbers just don't add up."
He added: "President Obama's plan cuts the debt, honors our values, and brightens the future for our children, our families and our nation. It's a heck of a lot better. It passes the arithmetic test and, even better, it passes the values test."
Republicans tried to spin Clinton’s appearance Wednesday as misplaced nostalgia that bears little relation to Obama’s performance.
"President Clinton drew a stark contrast between himself and President Obama tonight," said Romney spokesman Ryan Williams. "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 was preceded by Elizabeth Warren, a rising star in the Democratic Party who is running for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts. Warren, a leading voice in the party's progressive wing, railed against the "corrosive greed" that has decimated the middle class. She cited as examples oil companies reaping record profits, billionaires paying taxes as lower rates than their secretaries and members of Congress who "act like we should thank them."
"People feel like the system is rigged against them. And here's the painful part. They're right, the system is rigged," she said.