It was at Obama’s request that Clinton gave the nominating speech, and in gratitude, in what was more a surprisingly modest gesture than a grand moment, the two men stood arm in arm onstage when Clinton was done. If they were not exactly basking in the glow of a deep friendship, there was at least the sense that Clinton had done precisely what he was asked to do in a way that only he could do it.
Even as his speech went on and on toward the 48-minute mark, blasting way past his allotted time, Clinton did not seem rambling so much as direct and fast and eager. His voice grew more powerful if scratchy, his signature gesticulations became more frequent — the thumb point, the finger point and finger roll, the open-handed can-you-believe-it lament, the raised eyebrows — as he made the case for Obama and against the Republicans and moved through the issues one after another, from health-care reform to the auto industry bailout to Medicare to tax and budget cuts.
In classic Clinton style, the more he got going, the less inclined he was to follow his printed text, ad-libbing his way through a series of knowing asides such as, “I know; I get it; I’ve been there.” He took his listeners on a kaleidoscopic tour of recent political history and deep into the Clintonian method, a modern-day variation of the Socratic method in which every question is worthy of consideration, and every opposing argument is given its due before being shredded.
He at once rued the roughness of modern politics while implementing his own soft but lacerating style, never more apparent than when he took on the young avatar of the conservative movement, GOP vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan.
When Ryan “looked into the TV camera and attacked President Obama’s ‘biggest, coldest power play’ in raiding Medicare,” Clinton said, “I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.” He seemed to be laughing, in fact, as he offered his counter to the Wisconsin congressman’s argument. Time after time, he burrowed into the theme of what he considers the polarizing nature of the Republican Party.
Politics, he said, “does not have to be a blood sport.” He talked about how he grew up not hating Republicans the way Republicans hate Obama. He mentioned how President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent troops to Little Rock in 1957 to promote school integration, and how he was honored to work “with both President Bushes” after national disasters, and how they concentrated on “solving problems and seizing opportunities and not fighting all the time.” What works “in the real world,” he said, “is cooperation.” One of the main reasons the nation ought to reelect Obama, Clinton said, is he is still committed to working not only with Republicans, but also with several Clinton allies. “Heck, he even appointed Hillary,” he said.