Bill, Barack and us
On Wednesday, the Democrats got to the point.
That was thanks to Bill Clinton, Beloved Democrat, a man who got negative ratings from only 27 percent of Americans in one recent national poll. There are pictures of kittens that get worse grades.
Everyone at the convention was eager to hear what Clinton had to say, particularly Barack Obama’s aides who had been pacing around all day waiting to get a look at the transcript.
A lot! Clinton ran overtime — surprise! — talking for nearly 50 minutes about a President Obama who had saved the auto industry, passed a stimulus that totally worked, improved the environment, reduced student loan costs, passed a transformative health care law, offered a reasonable and workable plan for debt reduction and helped create millions of private-sector jobs. If there was still stuff left undone, it was because “no president — not me, not any of my predecessors — could fully have repaired the damage he found in just four years.”
He also said cooperation is better than conflict and a broken clock is right twice a day. He supports our men and women overseas. It’s not like every word was golden.
But, really, it was some endorsement from a guy who’d been consigned to the Alpha Doghouse for trash-talking Obama during the 2008 primaries. Remember what F. Scott Fitzgerald said about there being no second acts in American lives? So wrong, Scott. Let me introduce you to Mr. Act Twelve.
The Democrats had been waiting for Clinton’s speech for two days, during which they diverted themselves with a couple of brief platform fights, one about inserting a mention of God, who had inadvertently been cut out of the platform’s 40 pages. (The Republicans left Tampa, Fla., wondering who had invited Clint Eastwood. The Democrats are now wondering who disinvited God.)
There was, of course, lots of talk about rising from humble roots. The Republicans played that card hard, too. But Ann Romney’s story about eating off an ironing board in college couldn’t match Michelle Obama’s saga of riding in a car “so rusted out I could actually see the pavement going by in a hole in the passenger side-door.”
When she mentioned that, I remembered that when my husband and I were in graduate school, he had a car with exactly the same problem. I wonder if the president had to park in out-of-the-way places to conceal the fact that the safety sticker on the windshield was four years out of date. If so, perhaps it’s just as well not to go into it.
Michelle was a wow, but there’s something kind of ironic about a woman wearing the best dress in the history of political conventions, one that offers a particularly flattering view of the best upper arms in the history of the female gender, giving a speech in which she earnestly explains how she is just like us.
The first lady had a lot to say about the burden of student loans, but in her eagerness to press a mom-centric theme, she never mentioned her work life after Harvard Law. One of the unremarked-upon factoids in recent political history is that the past two Democratic presidents both had their careers underwritten by lawyer spouses who served as the chief family wage-earners.
That brings us back to Bill Clinton, the first Democratic president to be the target of the wild-eyed hatred of a new far right that seemed incapable of accepting the fact that more people had voted for him than their alternative. In 1993, he got his party to raise taxes to get the soaring national deficits under control. It was a huge lift and politically disastrous. The Democrats lost Congress in 1994. A freshman House member from Pennsylvania, who reluctantly cast the deciding “yes” vote, was politically ruined forever. (Chelsea is now married to her son. Really, you cannot make these Clinton stories up.)
The country got the reward. By the time Clinton left office, trailed by yet another scandal involving presidential pardons, the unemployment rate was 4 percent. Then he handed the country over to George W. Bush, who was pressured to cut taxes by the right wing that is now running the Republican show.
We’re saddled with monster deficits, and the Republicans refuse to let this president do the brave thing Bill Clinton did and get us more revenue.
So, we’re almost done, convention-wise. We’ve learned that both parties like God and moms, particularly moms with humble roots. They both have faith that people who work hard and play by the rules can overcome exposure to secondhand furniture while they’re in college. Otherwise, it’s just a matter of whether you want to raise taxes and balance the budget like Clinton, or cut taxes and plunge us into a hopeless sea of debt, like Bush. Let the fight begin.
Gail Collins is a columnist for The New York Times.