Sixteen years since that first Presidential campaign, and Bill Clinton still knows how to stage a comeback. During Hillary's campaign he seemed to take on the role typically filled by a Vice Presidential candidate. He hit her opponent over and over, hard - so hard, in fact, that it hurt Clinton's image among some Democrats and left scars of bitterness on the party's psyche.
After tonight, those scars will probably heal. After this speech, any lingering bitterness toward the former President will probably be replaced by a 'come home, all is forgiven' glow. Obama supporters may differ with Bill Clinton on somepolicy issues, but Bill Clinton has restored his position as the patriarch and elder statesman of the Democratic Party.
"That makes two of us," Bill said of his endorsement and Hillary's. "In fact, that makes eighteen million of us." That was the punchline, the payoff line, and it delivered the emotional wallop everyone was waiting for. Bill went much further than Hillary did in praising Obama, and it made all the past rumors of bruised Clinton/Obama egos feel like nothing more than a dramatic build-up to a satisfying denouement.
Bill may have also been putting out a little "this is how it's done" vibe toward his successor, too. He was the old master, nailing line after line. Well, fine. Obama's going to have to step up his game anyway to nail that 80,000-person crowd. He could do worse than to deliver a line like Bill's about showing the world "the power of our example and not just example of our power."
Bill Clinton endorsed Obama's ability as commander in chief in unequivocal terms, and he laid out a strong argument about his ability to fix the economy. Sure, we could nitpick. The line-parsers are already jumping on his praise for Biden's experience, although I thought that the balance between "experience" and Obama's "insight" was well-nuanced. I did think he was too soft on McCain, overpraising his independence and failing to note the flip-flops and reversals that have marked McCain's campaign.
But these are minor quibbles. Will this speech help Obama in the general election? Almost certainly, and Obama would be wise to draw on Bill extensively in the coming campaign. Will it help heal the Democratic Party? Definitely.
I suspect this speech will fully restore President Clinton's personal stature within the party. After a bruising and bitter campaign, Bill Clinton is on his way to once again being a unifying Democratic figure. The more he helps Obama, the more he will renew his own reputation.
Tonight Bill Clinton did what he had to do - for the party, for Obama, and for the Clinton franchise. You gotta hand it to him: He just made one more comeback.
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