CHARLOTTE, N.C. Barack Obama shared center stage at the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday night with Bill Clinton, his enormously popular Democratic predecessor, who told an overflow crowd that he had no doubt that the president could turn the troubled economy around if given a second term.
The thousands of delegates and supporters who jammed the Time Warner Cable Arena responded with sustained applause and a standing ovation.
I love our country and I know were coming back, Clinton said. For more than 200 years, through every crisis, weve always come out stronger than we went in. And we will again as long as we do it together. We champion the cause for which our founders pledged their lives, their fortunes, their sacred honor to form a more perfect union. If thats what you believe, if thats what you want, we have to re-elect President Barack Obama.
The 42nd president remains hugely popular among Democrats, and his speech was hotly anticipated by delegates yearning for a full-throated defense of Obamas economic policies after months of attacks by Republicans on the No. 1 issue in the presidential race.
Before he arrived on stage, they began clapping and dancing along with a video that played his campaign theme song, Fleetwood Macs Dont Stop Thinking About Tomorrow. During the speech, he had the delegates leaping to their feet as he delivered a detailed, point-by-point rebuttal to every Republican criticism of Obama, from the 2009 stimulus package to a recent change in welfare regulations.
The speech was vintage Clinton. He frequently veered from his prepared remarks running way long and had the crowd in stitches. We love you, Bill! they screamed.
Obama gives a hug
Obama had watched Clintons speech from the arena after arriving in Charlotte on Wednesday afternoon. He appeared from behind the stage after the 47-minute speech to deafening cheers. The two men hugged as the Tom Petty song I Wont Back Down played.
Clinton not only blamed Republicans for causing the problems in the economy in the first place, but for preventing Obama from allowing the economy to fully recover. For example, he said, House Republicans have failed to pass the presidents jobs plan that would have created more than a million new jobs.
He argued that its unreasonable to expect a total recovery in one term, but that Obama has created jobs and cut taxes through the recovery, the auto industry bailout and an agreement with management, labor and environmental groups to double car mileage over the next few years.
President Obama started with a much weaker economy than I did. Listen to me now: No president not me or any of my predecessors, no one could have fully repaired all the damage in just four years, Clinton said. But he has laid the foundations, and if youll renew the presidents contract, you will feel it. You will feel it.
Are we where we want to be today? No. Is the president satisfied? Of course not, Clinton said. But are we better off than we were when he took office?
Yes! they screamed.
Clintons endorsement was meant to signal a good economy seal of approval for Obama, a promise that Obamas policies will bring back the peace and prosperity of the 1990s, when a booming economy created millions of jobs, stocks soared, and a flood of tax revenues helped balance the federal budget for the first time in a generation.
A lot of Americans are still angry and frustrated with the economy. Though employment is growing, banks are beginning to lend, and even housing prices are picking up a bit, too many people do not feel it yet, Clinton said. I had experienced the same thing in 1994 and early 1995. Our policies were working and the economy was growing, but most people didnt feel it yet.
From rivals to allies
The praise came from a man who arrived slowly, even grudgingly, at Obamas side after first watching his wife lose a hard-fought battle for the 2008 Democratic nomination.
But the two have grown closer, and Clintons warm embrace Wednesday signaled not only his support, but his belief that his familys future is tied up in Obamas. As secretary of state, Hillary Clinton is now one of the most popular members of the Obama administration.
Delegates laughed at Clintons jokes, leaped to their feet and cheered almost as if he were running for president.
Clinton countered Republican attacks that Obama both weakened Medicare and Clintons own welfare to work initiative. He noted Romneys running mate Paul Ryan had accused Obama of robbing Medicare of $716 billion, noting that its the same amount of money that Ryan has proposed in his budget.
It takes some brass to attack a guy for doing what you did, said Clinton said, in one of his frequent ad-libs from his prepared remarks.
He called the welfare charge a real doozy.