CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Bill Clinton fired up the Arkansas delegation at the Democratic National Convention on Tuesday night, blasting Republicans for piling up the national debt and giving a preview of the speech he will give to the full convention on Wednesday.
"This economy that [President Obama] inherited was profoundly ruined. Nobody who's ever served -- no one, including me -- has ever been expected to turn it around overnight," Clinton said. "The economy failed and hit bottom six months after Republicans took office. Nine percent. That's almost Depression-level shrinkage. And I'll give you the details tomorrow night, but that's quite a blow."
"And it was really interesting to me that when [Obama] was trying so hard to put Americans back to work -- two full years before the election -- the Senate Republican leader said that their number one goal was not to put America back to work, it was to put the president out of work," he added.
Clinton spoke to several hundred attendees at a fundraiser in his honor, sponsored by the Arkansas Democratic Party. Actors Adrian Grenier and Ashley Judd, as well as musician will.i.am, also spoke and celebrated the former president. The crowd warmly embraced Clinton as an old friend, yelling, "That's our Bill!" and reminiscing about his time in Arkansas beforehand.
Clinton also made fun of GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney for offering so few policy details in his convention speech, joking that it was a good idea because if the American public heard them, they wouldn't vote for them.
"They tell us they're good husbands, good fathers and good Americans. Totally self-made. And you can trust me. See me after the election for the details," he said, summing up how he interpreted the speeches in at last week's Republican convention in Tampa, Fla.
But perhaps the main point of Clinton's speech was putting the blame for the national debt squarely at the GOP's doorstep.
He pointed to the giant national debt clock that Republicans had at their convention, saying, "You see that debt clock?"
"They built it!" shouted a man in the audience.
"Yeah, they built it. They built it," replied Clinton, to loud cheers and laughs from the audience.
Clinton also criticized Republicans for going after former President George H.W. Bush when he tried to reduce the national debt and told the crowd that President Obama is not responsible for most of the national debt:
When the first President Bush really sucked it up and decided to do something about it by signing a bill the Democratic Congress passed to pay for things as you go along, and to have spending cuts and very modest tax increases, they made him apologize for it at the Republican convention. You remember that? At the time I was happy, because it helped me get elected. But it was sad because he did the right thing, and they made him apologize for it.
Then, I served for eight years, and we kept bringing the deficit down. We had four surplus budgets in a row. Then what happened? We put them [Republicans] back in -- or the Supreme Court did -- and they got rid of pay as you go, they [passed] the tax cuts and spent lots of money. ... We had a projected surplus of $5.7 trillion and turned it into a projected debt of $5.8 trillion over the next 10 years. We would have been out of debt by next year or the year after next. ...
The rules that we followed then that we should normally follow, do not apply now. The reason President Obama did that stimulus is, when interest rates are zero, and there is no private activity, if the government does not step in to put people to work and to help people get through the day, they won't make it.
So his contribution to that big ol' debt clock that you saw is the $800 billion stimulus. All those other trillions and trillions of dollars? He had nothing to do with that.
The solution, said Clinton, was to pass the recommendations by the Simpson-Bowles debt commission and "pass a 10-year plan to reduce the debt, starting the year after growth has clearly returned."
He added that it was impossible to balance a budget without the presence of economic growth, adequate revenues and spending controls -- all of which do not currently exist.
Clinton also put in a word about Hillary Clinton, who is not at the convention because of her role as Secretary of State.
"I was quite surprised when President Obama asked me to nominate him," Clinton said. "No former president's ever done anything like this. But the person who might otherwise do it, has a traveling job and can't participate in politics. I'm very proud of her."
Toward the end of his speech, Clinton hit Republicans for passing laws that make it harder for Americans to vote, asking attendees, "Do you really want to live in a country where one party is so desperate to win the White House that they go around trying to make it harder for people to vote if they're people of color, poor people or first generation immigrants?"