Bill Clinton gives full backing to Obama in joint appearance
In a raspy whisper, Bill Clinton said words many Democrats never thought they would hear, telling a huge Barack Obama crowd on Saturday: “I have given my voice in the service of my president.”
So Clinton has, literally, with his exhaustive campaigning for a candidate he once disdained, and figuratively, by putting a plain spoken case for the current president, which Obama has sometimes struggled to match.
The ex-president, his white mane picked out by spotlights, was the warm-up act for Obama at a frigid late night rally packed by 24,000 people, in swing state Virginia, just three days before America votes.
An hour later, as Clinton’s theme song, Fleetwood Mac’s Don’t Stop blasted into the night air – the business of placing his two-term Democratic legacy on Obama’s shoulders was complete.
The joint appearance was the latest effort by the Obama campaign to co-opt Clinton’s reputation for engineering a late 1990s golden age for the president as he fights for Democratic economic principles in a more austere time.
It also highlighted the growing warmth between the two giants of their party, following tensions which flared when Obama thwarted Hillary Clinton’s bid for the Democratic nomination in 2008.
Bill Clinton, the only Democrat elected to two White House terms since World War II – though that could change on Tuesday – made the case for Obama in his folksy Southern way, and mockingly dismantled Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s credentials.
The former president, of whom it was once said “he could talk a monkey out of a tree”, reprised his role which brought the house down at the Democratic National Convention in September.
He spoke of Obama’s approach to economics, the middle class, and to being America’s commander-in-chief, almost as an older man would of a protege.
Clinton also took Romney to task, especially for running an ad in Ohio that claimed that Chrysler planned to outsource production of its Jeep vehicles to China, which prompted company bosses to lash Romney for pushing a falsehood.
“You know, when I was young, and I got my hand caught in the cookie jar, my face reddened, right, and I took my hand out the cookie jar,” Clinton said.
“Governor Romney, he’s just digging for more cookies.”
Clinton has now done 27 events for Obama in the climax of the campaign using his popularity to serve as a powerful advocate for the president and will keep on through election day, including another double act with Obama in New Hampshire on Sunday.
When his turn came, Obama showered warm personal praise on his Democratic predecessor as he bounded on stage after the ex-president’s speech, and gave him a warm handshake and a hug.
“I was just sitting there soaking it all up, he was a great president, he has been a great friend,” Obama said.
Clinton’s embrace of Obama, after a cool relationship with the current president in the first years of his term, has revived one of the great soap imponderables of Washington politics – what are the Clintons up to?
Some conspiracy theorists believe the former president and master campaigner is backing Obama so warmly simply to secure Obama’s support should his wife Hillary decide to make another run for the presidency in 2016.
Others believe that Clinton, grateful for Obama’s choice of his wife as secretary of state, simply could not resist the call for a return to action, to the frontline campaign politics he loves.
Clinton also has much to gain politically. Many of the young people who Obama inspired to get involved in politics for the first time in 2008 were too young to have a clear memory of the former president’s administration.
Plunging into the crowd with Obama after their joint show on Saturday, Clinton was introducing himself, and more importantly his political legacy to a whole new generation of Democrats.
Clinton must also be luxuriating in the sight of Obama, who was once sniffy towards his 1993-2001 administration, now gushing with praise for his record as president.