CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Democrats resurrected their icon of 1990s success Wednesday, showcasing former President Bill Clinton at their national convention as a champion of the middle class and relying on him to bring home Democrats tempted by Mitt Romney's Republican economic message.
And apparently, President Obama liked what he heard. He made his first appearance of the convention right after Clinton's speech, striding onto the podium to physically and symbolically embrace the former president and his passionate defense of the policies of the last four years.
The former president, greeted wildly by the crowd in the Time Warner Cable Arena, appeared eager to complete his assignment. He formally nominated the president for a second term in his own unique way.
"I want to nominate a man who is cool on the outside, but who burns for American on the inside," he said.
Clinton said voters should reject the idea that Obama has failed, ticking off a list of economic accomplishments he said have saved the middle class from the prospect of another depression.
"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 said. "I like the argument for President Obama's re-election a lot better."
Speaking of the 2008 candidate who defeated his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, now the secetary of state, in the Democratic primaries, the former president said: "He inherited a deeply damaged economy, put a floor under the crash, began the long hard road to recovery, and laid the foundation for a more modern, more well-balanced economy that will produce millions of good new jobs, vibrant new businesses, and lots of new wealth for the innovators."
And Clinton also seemed to summarize much of the message of the first two days of the convention - set to end today with acceptance speeches by Obama and Vice President Biden - by promising that Democrats will blunt a perceived assault on the middle class.
"The most important question is, what kind of country do you want to live in?" he asked. "If you want a you're-on-your-own, winner-take-all society, you should support the Republican ticket. If you want a country of shared prosperity and shared responsibility - a we're-all-in-this-together society - you should vote for Barack Obama and Joe Biden."
Some analysts had questioned the idea of bringing Clinton to the convention, fearful that his still-strong appeal in the party might overshadow the president himself - or that he would stray from the Obama reservation as he has done in the past.
But at the beginning of his own remarks during Wednesday's session, Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York seemed to sum up the thinking when he obliquely compared Clinton to former Republican President George W. Bush.
"It's no accident that Democrats celebrate their ex-presidents while Republicans practically banish theirs," he said.
But Clinton had his own thoughts on Republicans, castigating them for failure to cooperate, compromise or even talking to the political opposition.
"One of the main reasons America should re-elect President Obama is that he still committed to cooperation," he said.
"Unfortunately, the faction that now dominates the Republican Party doesn't see it that way. They think government is the enemy, and compromise is the weakness."
But some of Clinton's most passionate arguments centered around allowing him more time to tackle the nation's economic problems.
"No president, not me nor any of my predecessors, could have repaired the damage in just four years," he said. "But conditions are improving, and if you will renew the president's contract, you will feel it. I believe that with all my heart."
Now the convention prepares for Obama and Biden, whose speeches are considered the highlights that will serve as the basis for much of the campaign over the next few weeks.
Throughout the convention, Democrats have missed few opportunities to trumpet their pro-choice views. And on Wednesday, several speakers pointed to the new GOP platform that advocates banning abortion with no protection for victims of rape and incest.
They also highlighted the Democratic position on several other issues important to women and asked their female officeholders to drive home the point.
At one point, eight female Democratic senators - including New York's Kirsten E. Gillibrand - stood behind Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski to emphasize the roles Democrats say they have afforded women.
Indeed, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., emphasized some of her own priorities during her remarks as she hit both economic and social topics.
"The hard-won rights of women are on the ballot," she said. "Democrats trust the judgment of women. We reject the Republican assault on women's health. It's just plain wrong."
One of the most significant speakers was Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown University law student who was castigated by conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh for advocating government sponsorship of birth control.
And she did not forget that the president called her and publicly defended her after the Limbaugh remarks.
"We've also seen another future we could choose," Fluke said. "An America in which our president, when hears that young woman has been verbally attacked, thinks of his daughters - not his delegates or donors - and stand for all women.
"And then, instead of trying to silence here - you invite me here - and give me a microphone - to amplify our voice," she added. "That's the difference."
She also said the future could feature an America with far different approaches to women's rights and health.
"An America in which access to birth control is controlled by people who will never use it; in which politicians redefine rape so survivors are victimized all over again," she said. "In a few short months, it's the America we could be. But it's not the America we should be. It's not who we are."
Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic candidate for the Senate in Massachusetts against Republican incumbent Scott Brown, also spoke Wednesday. She seized on the now-familiar theme of protecting the middle class, and said that most people now feel the "system is rigged against them"
"I talk to nurses and programmers, salespeople and firefighters - people who bust their tails every day. Not one of them - not one - stashes their money in the Cayman Islands to avoid paying their fair share of taxes," she said. "These folks don't resent that someone else makes more money. We're Americans. We celebrate success. We just don't want the game to be rigged."
Several former employees of Romney's Bain Capital private equity firm also spoke to the convention, just as others did at last week's Republican event, only these people told far different stories than those heard in Tampa.
One of those was Randy Johnson, who said he and 450 other workers were fired at their company controlled by Bain.
Some were hired back, he said, but at lower wages and with reduced benefits.
"I don't think Mitt Romney is a bad man. I don't fault him for the fact that some companies win and some companies lose. That's a fact of life," he said. "What I fault him for is making money without a moral compass.
"America cannot afford Romney economics. Mitt Romney will stick it to working people. Barack Obama is sticking up for working people"
Another former Bain employee, Cindy Hewitt of Miami, said she also lost her job at a plant controlled by Bain that closed after Romney's company took control.
"While we watched our jobs disappear, they ultimately walked away with more than $240 million," she said. "Of course, I understand that some companies are successful and others are not - that's the way our economy works. But it's wrong when dedicated, productive employees feel the pain while folks like Mitt Romney make profits."
Schumer also addressed the convention, echoing many of the thoughts he expressed the day before when speaking to the New York delegation.
He pointed to the ticket of Romney and Paul Ryan as a threat to the middle class, casting them as insensitive to the concerns of regular Americans.
"Mitt Romney's only bottom line is the one at the end of his own bank statement," he said. "The problem is that he confuses his own narrow, self-interest - and that of people like him - with the national interest. He thinks as long as we do right by the Mitt Romneys of the world, America will be just fine."
Schumer also brought the race to even more personal terms, saying the nation cannot afford Romney's perspective.
"We tried it under a president who billed himself as a 'compassionate conservative,'?" he said, referring to George W. Bush. "It didn't work. Now we have Mitt Romney, calling himself a 'severe conservative.'?"
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