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Wednesday night, Bill Clinton reminded America of what it is – and who he is.

bill clinton

Whatever the former president's many personal flaws and weaknesses might be – and they are both numerous and legendary, from triangulating critical policies to Monica – he rolled out his astounding ability to weave magic in front of the delegates and guests at the Democratic National Convention, and a national television audience that was larger than the one paying attention to Mitt Romney six days earlier. Yet again, and maybe for the last time on this size stage, Clinton demonstrated his remarkable knack for speaking in a way that lets everyone listening relate back to something in their own life. For instance, when he was destroying Paul Ryan on cutting Medicaid assistance for the sick and the dying, I thought about my kid sister.

In 1999, she was brought home from the hospital for the last few days of her life. Terminally ill with brain cancer, Medicaid paid for a nurse and a home health care worker because her HMO refused to pick up the tab. One or the other showed up every day. They helped her husband bathe Janice, and they sat with her for a few minutes so Steve could return phone calls, or go to the grocery store, or just take a break from his exhausting death watch by strolling around the block to clear his head. This is precisely the sort of care that the GOP wants to deprive Americans of having, and last night Clinton showed why so much of the country still adores him.

Cheering Wonkishness

Bill Clinton may be the only person in America who can bring a crowd to its feet, cheering with the kind of wild, abandoned ecstasy usually seen only in teenage girls at a Justin Bieber concert, as he worked through the microscopic, wonky details of public policy and statistics.

Then, when the cheering got too loud, he waved that finger of his at the delegates, telling them to pay attention: "Now, wait, listen, this is important." They only cheered more.

He laid out the rationale for Obamacare, doing a better job of explaining why it is both important and good for Americans in a sound bite kind of way that not only made sense, it was more coherent than anything The White House has ever said about its signature legislation. What Clinton said also happened to be the truth, something that Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan and the whole claque of Republicans who yammered last week in Tampa never bothered to use.

Clinton tore a strip off Romney and Ryan on Medicare, too, putting on one sentence the difference between Obama and his challenger. He noted that the president's cost savings would keep America's second most beloved program – only Social Security is more popular – afloat until at least 2024 while Ryan's plan would bankrupt it Medicare in 2016, long before the GOP's voucherization took hold. "He has some brass," Clinton said of Ryan, meaning 'balls' when he said brass and everyone knew it.

Olde Tyme Religion

The speech was pure Clinton and pure, old-fashioned, old-time Democratic populism, the heart and soul and religion of the party. Yet he managed to speak to the base without alienating the middle – those elusive "independents" whom I suspect are simply folks who won't pay attention to the presidential campaign until mid-October. It is going to be difficult for the GOP to pull sound bites from what the former president said to create attack ads or YouTube videos.

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And unlike many of Clinton's addresses when he was president, some of the best parts came when he wandered off the prepared remarks. He did it often enough so Ana Marie Cox tweeted during the speech that the TelePrompter® operator had given up trying to follow Clinton and was walking around his computer, confused.


But no one else was confused. We knew precisely what Bill Clinton was telling us, and we loved every minute of it.

Charley James

Author and journalist Charley James’ next book is about his experience becoming homeless. When published, Charley will donate a percentage of his advance and royalties to homeless organizations.

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Posted: Thursday, 6 September 2012

Charley's next book is about his experience being homeless. When published, he will donate a percentage of his royalties to homeless organizations.