President Barack Obama inherited a wreck of an economy, “put a floor under the crash” and laid the foundation for millions of good new jobs, former President Bill Clinton declared Wednesday night in a Democratic National Convention appeal aimed at millions of hard-pressed Americans yet to decide how to vote.
“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.”
Obama’s high command released excerpts of his remarks hours before Clinton’s appearance as they worked to control the political fallout from an embarrassing retreat on the party platform.
Under criticism from Republican challenger Mitt Romney, they abruptly rewrote the day-old document to insert a reference to God and to declare that Jerusalem “is and will remain the capital of Israel.” Some delegates objected loudly, but Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, presiding, ruled them outvoted. White House aides said Obama had personally ordered the changes, but they did not disclose whether he had approved the earlier version.
The episode was an unwanted intrusion for Democratic officials, who scripted the evening to showcase Clinton, popular 12 years after he left office with the budget in balance and now their unofficial ambassador-in-chief to anxious voters in a tough economy.
“In Tampa the Republican argument against the president’s re-election was pretty simple: `We left him a total mess, he hasn’t finished cleaning it up yet, so fire him and put us back in,'” Clinton said in advance excerpts.
Obama arrived in his convention city earlier in the day, and officials said he would be in the hall when Clinton spoke.
On an unsettled convention day, aides scrapped plans for the president to speak to a huge crowd in a 74,000 seat football stadium, citing the threat of bad weather in a city that has been pelted by heavy downpours in recent days.
“We can’t do anything about the rain. The important thing is the speech,” said Washington Rey, a delegate from Sumter, S.C.
That and the eight-week general election campaign about to begin between Obama and Republican challenger Romney, who spent his second straight day in Vermont preparing for this fall’s debates with Obama.
Clinton shared prime time with Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic candidate for a Republican-held Senate seat in Romney’s Massachusetts. For many years “our middle class has been chipped, squeezed and hammered,” she said in excerpts released in advance.
In a tight race for the White House and with control of the Senate at stake, Democrats signaled unmistakable concern about the growing financial disadvantage they confront. Officials said Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who was Obama’s first White House chief of staff, was resigning as national co-chair of the president’s campaign to help raise money for a super PAC that supports the his re-election.
Unlike candidates, outside groups can solicit donations of unlimited size from donors. At the same time, federal law bars coordination with the campaigns.
Inside the hall, a parade of speakers praised Obama, but many went relatively easy on Romney after a series of scathing speeches on the convention’s opening night.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, who sits opposite Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan on the House Budget Committee, was something of an exception.
“When President Clinton left office, America had projected surpluses of trillions of dollars over the next decade. Then came two wars, two huge tax cuts tilted to the wealthy and a new entitlement. Republicans didn’t pay for any of it. Paul Ryan voted for all of it,” he said.
Clinton’s speech marked the seventh consecutive convention he has spoken to party delegates, and the latest twist in a relationship with Obama that has veered from frosty to friendly. The two men clashed in 2008, when Obama outran Hillary Rodham Clinton, the former president’s wife, for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Clinton, then a New York senator, now Obama’s Secretary of State, was in East Timor as the party met half a world away. She made a cameo appearance on the huge screens inside the Time Warner Cable Arena, though, turning up in a video that celebrated the 12 Democratic women senators currently in office.
Whatever the past differences between presidents current and past, Obama and his top aides looked to Clinton as the man best able to vouch for him when it comes to the economy, his largest impediment to re-election.
As a group, White men favor Romney over Obama, according to numerous polls, but a Gallup survey taken in July showed 63 percent of them view the former president favorably, to 32 percent who see him in unfavorable terms.
Republicans have suddenly discovered a lot to like about Clinton – a man they impeached in late 1998 when they ran the House and he sat in the Oval Office.
Ryan made no mention of those unpleasantries when he told a campaign audience in Iowa, “Under President Clinton we got welfare reform. President Obama is rolling back welfare reform.
“President Clinton worked with Republicans in Congress to have a budget agreement to cut spending. President Obama, a gusher of new spending.”
Independent fact checkers have repeatedly debunked the claim about Obama’s welfare proposals. Nor did the Wisconsin lawmaker mention that under a balanced budget compromise with Clinton to rein in federal spending, Republicans agreed to create a new benefit program that provides health care for lower-income children and others ineligible for Medicaid.
The changes in the platform came after the Republicans criticized an earlier decision to strip out a reference to God.
Romney said that “suggests a party that is increasingly out of touch with the mainstream of the American people. … I think this party is veering further and further away into an extreme wing that Americans don’t recognize.”
Romney had declared in a summertime trip there that Jerusalem was the country’s capital. U.S. policy for years has held that the city’s status is a matter for negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis, and Democrats said at the time he was pandering to Jewish voters in the United States.
The switch puts the platform in line with what advisers say is the president’s personal view, if not the policy of his administration. “Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel,” it says. “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.”