It wasn't quite what anyone had expected. But the raucous crowd who gathered to see Barack Obama nominated for a second tilt at the US Presidency last night have heard a lifetime’s worth of Bill Clinton speeches, so they knew to expect for the unexpected. And when the moment came, they lapped it up.
In a warm, folksy, and entirely unique closing speech on the second night of the Democratic Convention, Mr Clinton turned on the old southern charm, offering a ringing endorsement of current occupant of the White House, and a sometimes-detailed evisceration of the man who seeks to wrest it from him.
He heralded “a man cool on the outside, but burning for America on the inside,” who had “inherited a deeply damaged economy, put a floor under the crash, and began the long hard road to recovery.” And he cast Obama as the man capable of leading an old-fashioned Democratic revival, built on the middle class.
"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 announced. "But I like the argument for President Obama's re-election a lot better."
In the old days, Clinton was sometimes called the “explainer in chief.” And while he may not be quite so lofty an orator as Obama, he is many times the advocate. His address, sometimes felt like a rambling wedding speech. It was long – almost 45 minutes – and sometimes untidy. At one point the teleprompter broke, and he strayed flamboyantly away from the prepared script throughout.
But Clinton’s address never felt dull, and initial reactions from the commentariat were almost entirely positive. Looking lean and tanned, the sprightly 66-year-old never forgot that, in this seemingly-tight election, his primary job was to reach to voters beyond the walls of the convention centre and persuade.
To that end, the centrepiece was a hugely-detailed, 30-minute dissection of the Republican platform. He offered forensic support for Obamacare, and, often citing cumbersome specifics attacked the Romney campaign’s economic platform of “tax cuts for millionaires,” saying: “we can’t afford to double-down on trickle down” economics.
“I think the President's plan is better than the Romney plan, because the Romney plan fails the first test of fiscal responsibility: The numbers don't add up,” he said. Recalling his own time in office, when the country's financial books were successfully balanced, he added: “I’m just a country boy from Arkansas,” he added, describing it as a place where people: “still think two plus two equals four.”
Perhaps optimistically, Clinton also called for a return to the era of political co-operation. Larding his remarks with colloquialism, he called the crowd “folks,” described Republican politicking as “a real doozy,” and dropped such rhetorical gems as “I’m fixing to tell ya!” That’s the stchick that still makes him the most popular ex-presidents alive. And he’ll be hoping the conversational tone was sufficient to keep the attention of all-important prime-time TV viewers.
At the end, he was joined on-stage by President Obama. The two men have a complex history, and while they have usually seen eye to eye on policy have clashed personally in the past. Time seems to have healed, though: he spoke warmly of Obama’s marriage, and graciously of his collaboration with his wife Hillary. Dressed identically, their public embrace seemed genuinely warm.