Bill Clinton: The smiling assassin

September 6, 2012

Bill Clinton took to the stage Wednesday night at the Democratic National Convention to reassure Americans about President Obama's leadership in tough economic times. And he did that, pointing especially to the tough hand Obama was dealt.

But the former president's most important lines of the night came when he took aim at the opposition party that he once worked successfully with in the White House: the Republicans.

Littered throughout Clinton's speech were sharp jabs at the GOP. And each one of them was delivered with an easy smile on his face that belied the stark charges.

At one point, the president even accused Republicans of hating the current president.

"I never hated Republicans the way some of them hate our president now," Clinton said.

Clinton also posited that the Republican plan would make Medicare go "broke by 2016" and fact-checked GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan's speech at last week's Republican convention, noting that Ryan criticized the same Obama Medicare cuts that were contained in his own House GOP budget. (The Romney-Ryan campaign now says they would restore those cuts.)

"You gotta give him one thing: It takes some brass to attack a guy for doing what you did," Clinton said in one of many moments in the speech during which he departed from his prepared remarks.

That was one of several zingers in the speech, in which Clinton fleshed out a line of attack that labels Republicans as the founders of the economic hardships that have plagued Obama's presidency.

"We simply cannot afford to give the reins of government to someone who will double down on trickle-down" economics, Clinton said.

Earlier, he offered this take on the GOP's campaign strategy: "We left (Obama) a total mess, he hasn't cleaned it up fast enough, so fire him and put us back in."

The former president's role as attack dog is notable. Generally, such partisan warfare is reserved for lower-profile speakers and vice presidential nominees -- people less worried about harming their own political brand and who are essentially taking one for the team.

But Clinton, whose speaking skills are unrivaled in today's politics and whose political brand is better than ever before and perhaps stronger than any politician, did so with grace and avoided coming across as angry, even while he lodged some very strong accusations.

We all basically knew that Clinton would deliver a strong speech -- and even Republicans acknowledged that fact during and after the speech.

But the former president's body blows on an already-struggling GOP brand may be the lasting impact of his 50-minute stemwinder. And the Obama campaign better hope they registered with swing voters and unenthusiastic Democrats.

Democrats' platform headache: Who would have thought Democrats would have more trouble with convention business than Republicans and their Ron Paul-supporting faction?

The Democrats' decision to amend their party platform on Wednesday -- after a controversial voice vote that didn't appear to attain the two-thirds support necessary -- added Jerusalem and God back into the platform after complaints about their exclusion.

The scene (video here) was somewhat similar to the chanting that occurred at the Republican convention last week when Paul supporters and grassroots Republicans protested new party rules that centralized party power, along with a credentials report that prevented Paul supporters from Maine from being seated.

But the effect of the Democrats' move is likely to be more long-lasting.

While the GOP risked inflaming some grassoots activists and Paul supporters, they don't appear to have caused any kind of chasm that will prevent those voters from voting for Romney this year. Plus, the situation was pretty inside baseball, and only true party activists will care much about it.

By having a magnifying glass on their platform's provisions on God and Israel, though, Democrats are inviting a continuing headache. Expect Republicans to continue to remind voters about what happened Wednesday.

Republicans have already sought to portray Obama as anti-Israel, and now they have video of a significant number of Democrats booing as pro-Israel language was re-inserted into the party platform.

Fixbits:

Obama says he regrets the "syntax" he used when he uttered "you didn't build that."

Top Democratic Party officials cancel scheduled interviews after the party's contentious platform changes.

Democratic strategist Paul Begala called the scene "embarrassing."

Democrats filled the arena to capacity on Wednesday -- so much so that people were barred from re-entering.

Gabby Giffords is in town.

Paul supporter Kerry Bentivolio, who already won the GOP nomination for former congressman Thaddeus McCotter's (R-Mich.) seat, also won the GOP nod Wednesday in the special election for the final two months of McCotter's current term.

A new GOP survey from pollster Adam Geller shows Republicans leading the race for Senate candidate Rep. Chris Murphy's (D-Conn.) seat, 42 percent to 35 percent. A recent Democratic poll showed Democrat Elizabeth Esty leading GOP state Sen. Andrew Roraback by nine points.

State Rep. Lee Anderson has been certified as Rep. John Barrow's (D-Ga.) opponent after a recount of the Republican primary runoff. Anderson won by 159 votes.

Must-reads:

"Iowa delegation draws possible 2016 Democratic presidential candidates" -- Philip Rucker, Washington Post

"Joe Biden to bring his ability to connect to Democratic convention stage" -- Krissah Thompson, Washington Post

"Gay Democrats Celebrate a Newfound Visibility" -- Adam Nagourney, New York Times

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix, the Post’s top political blog.
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Chris Cillizza | September 5, 2012