Clinton’s intemperate address

Bill Clinton’s stemwinder of a speech supporting President Obama at the DNC last night provided the unexpected twist or two that some pundits had led us to anticipate. But you had to know how to read it.

It was a little like Abraham Lincoln’s Temperance Address of 1842 — a celebration of sobriety in drunken rhetoric that undermines the celebration. Clinton’s support had a satirical edge. In 2008 Obama nicely saluted Clinton for making the case for change “as only he can make it.”

Last night Clinton made the case for Obama as only he can make it. It roughed Obama up. When he was done, you needed to get a little ice for that. Let’s get a little ice for it.

Clinton saluted Obama for extending the life of Medicare by cutting $716 billion from the program, you had to wonder. If Obama extended the life of Medicare by cutting it to the tune of $716 billion, just think what Obama might have done with double or triple the cuts? Why, he could have provided Medicare a bridge through the twenty-first century, to borrow an old Clinton trope.

Obama’s diddling with the welfare reform work requirement strengthened it, according to Clinton. It was a requirement that Clinton himself had signed off on in 1996. Why hadn’t he thought of such an ingenious approach? Surely you had to understand that the man was putting us on. Just as he was obscuring the substance of what Obama has done, Clinton made sure to drop a clue when he asked: “Now, did I make myself clear?”

Clinton’s case for Obama’s handling of the economy involved another subtle satirical thrust: “No president — no president, not me, not any of my predecessors, no one could have fully repaired all the damage that he found in just four years.” But could others have done better? Clinton didn’t say, of course, but the answer is affirmative. If the implication was that others might have done better, it was left hanging.

Whatever, Clinton assured his audience that he believes the case for Obama “with all [his] heart.” This from the only American president ever to have been adjudicated in contempt of court for lying under oath, this was a dead giveaway. And Clinton wasn’t even under oath last night.

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