Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Bill Clinton brings it for Obama

September 6, 2012 -- Updated 1607 GMT (0007 HKT)
  • Contributors assess the speeches on the second night of the DNC
  • Alan Brinkley: It has always been remarkable how Bill Clinton can bring a crowd alive
  • John Avlon: Clinton's speech serves as a reminder of why we should love civic debates
  • Maria Cardona: He spoke directly to disaffected swing voters

(CNN) -- The second night of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, featured speeches by Bill Clinton, the 42nd president of the United States, as well as Elizabeth Warren, candidate for the U.S. Senate. The following contributors offered their assessments.

Analysis: Clinton speech hit Obama's marks

Alan Brinkley: Clinton was not only charismatic, but serious

It has always been remarkable, I think, how Bill Clinton can bring a crowd alive, and that's what he did on Wednesday night. It was a speech full of wonky policy issues, the things he likes so well. But after so many months of paid advertisements playing ugly criticisms of the opposition, Clinton was not only charismatic, but serious.

For years now, conventions have been carefully organized for television without any real energy or excitement, one of the reasons that so few people are watching them anymore. But Clinton turned the convention into a real conversation about policy, about politics, and about the future.

His viewers might not agree with much of what he says, but his speech was still an event of the campaign. I wonder whether President Obama, who can give a pretty good speech himself, feels that Clinton has overtaken him. I wonder if Clinton's speech will lead to a more honest way of arguing about ideas and policy. I doubt it. But it might help at least some people to think about serious things.

Alan Brinkley is the Allan Nevins professor of history at Columbia University.

John Avlon: Our most talented politician makes Obama's case

John P. Avlon
John P. Avlon

Bill Clinton's speech reminded many Americans why he remains our country's most beloved and naturally talented politician, for all his faults.

On Wednesday night, he cut through the predictable partisan spin by making a credible and compelling case for Barack Obama's re-election -- better, frankly, than the president has made himself to date.

Full disclosure: I was a Clinton kid. I was a freshman in college in 1992, and Bubba's campaign inspired the sense that there was a third way, between the far right and far left, that could actually solve problems instead of simply demagoguing them. He was my sub-generation's JFK, and he inspired my unapologetic centrist politics.

Bill Clinton can talk policy without putting anyone to sleep. That means communicating a love of ideas that can be put into action. And so in Wednesday night's speech he offered a seminar in how to contrast constructively; putting forward stats that resonate with common-sense values.

Case in point: Clinton's analysis of health care reform, and even the comparative deficit and debt plans, resonates on Main Street because he talks in terms of values and respects the intelligence of the American people. He surgically skewered the alternative Republican plans as well. In the process, he reminded us that good policy can be good politics, connecting with humor to the head and heart.

Opinion: Bill Clinton, the reverse Clint Eastwood?

Some of the unrelenting Clinton nostalgia from baby boomers stems from the fact that he reminds them of when they were younger than today, and possibly wealthier and more influential than they might be now. But the fact that Bill and Hillary Clinton are today apparently the most admired Democrats among Republicans -- who once made hating them a cottage industry, as they do with the Obamas today -- is ironic and sadly hilarious, a reminder of how shallow and unprincipled poisonous hyperpartisanship always ultimately is.

If Bill Clinton were constitutionally eligible for another term, he would win. If swing voters all listened to Wednesday night's speech, I believe Barack Obama would win this election.

But Clinton's speech Wednesday night was both a seminar and a reminder of why we should love civic debates, as a matter of style and substance, focused on policy as well as politics. Write this line down: "Democracy ... does not have to be a blood sport; it can be an honorable enterprise that advances the human interest." Remember it and aspire to it, taking heart amid all the heat, to persevere in the belief that something at least a little bit better can always be within our reach.

John Avlon is a CNN contributor and senior political columnist for Newsweek and The Daily Beast. He is co-editor of the book "Deadline Artists: America's Greatest Newspaper Columns." He is a regular contributor to "Erin Burnett OutFront" and is a member of the OutFront Political Strike Team. For more political analysis, tune in to "Erin Burnett OutFront" at 7 ET weeknights.

Maria Cardona: Clinton answers the 'better off' question with resounding 'Yes!'

Maria Cardona
Maria Cardona

President Clinton's speech, delivered in his unique, well, Clintonesque manner, crystallized the choice this election. He spelled out in the way only he can why Republicans seem to have a visceral reaction to President Obama and how that has kept them from putting the interests of the nation before their politics. And he did it with emotion that was rational, passionate and pragmatic.

He spoke directly to those disaffected swing voters who are disenchanted with the pace of the change they voted for in 2008, by explaining that it was not Obama who changed or who didn't work to deliver, it was the Republicans who kowtowed to their extreme wings and put the goal of defeating the president before any commitment to solving the big problems facing this nation.

He set the record straight on Medicare and on GOP fabrications about Obama's stance on welfare reform, and he unequivocally answered the question of whether we are better off today than when Obama took office: The answer was a resounding yes. Clinton's credibility and history with a similar economic situation (though Clinton said that no president could have fixed the damage Obama was handed in just four years) made him the right messenger to the right audience at the right time for Obama. He delivered and he delivered big.

Other notable speeches? Elizabeth Warren, Cristina Saralegui -- the Latina Oprah Winfrey -- and of course Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown University law student smeared by Rush Limbaugh for speaking out for contraception coverage. They spoke to critical audiences within the Democratic Party: progressives who see Warren as a champion and crusader for consumer protection against a Wall Street run amok; progressive and independent women for whom Fluke embodies concern about politicians making decisions about their bodies, their families and their lives; and Latinos for whom Saralegui is an icon. She was introduced by a compelling "Dreamer," Benita Veliz, underscoring the importance of immigration reform.

All three women spoke eloquently and from the heart about the only candidate in the race they said would fight for middle-class families, women, Latinos, Dreamers. One who would uphold the ideals of fairness, opportunity, hard work and compassion that reflect a country where everyone has the chance to achieve the American dream.

Maria Cardona is a Democratic strategist, a principal at the Dewey Square Group, a former senior adviser to Hillary Clinton and former communications director for the Democratic National Committee.

Gergen: Now it's up to Obama

Ana Navarro: Sweet justice for the man from Hope, Arkansas

Ana Navarro
Ana Navarro

On Wednesday night, Bill Clinton showed us what a political comeback looks like. In 2008, during the Democrat primary, he went from being the "first black president" to being accused of racism.

I know Bill Clinton, and when I saw him shortly after the election, he was deeply hurt. He thought Obama and the media had been terribly unfair to Hillary and to him.

Tonight, the man who was marginalized in 2008 came to the rescue of the man who marginalized him. And he did it in classic Clinton style: long, didactic, funny and very damn good.

I am a Republican, but I love a good political speech regardless of who gives it. Clinton was at the top of his game. He started with a bipartisan preamble, even giving credit to Presidents Bush 41 and 43. Then he went on to teach a master lesson on a partisan attack.

It says a lot about how Clinton is perceived and how Joe Biden is perceived that the former president got a night as the headliner all to his own, while the sitting vice president did not.

This night was sweet justice for the man from Hope, Arkansas. In 2000, Al Gore wanted to be his own man and couldn't keep Clinton far enough away. Today, Barack Obama wants to be Bill Clinton's heir and cannot keep him close enough. However, this does create a problem for Obama. He now needs to top Clinton's speech, and Bill set the bar quite high.

Ana Navarro, a Republican strategist and commentator, served as national Hispanic campaign chairwoman for John McCain in 2008 and national Hispanic co-chair for Jon Huntsman's 2012 campaign.

Ruben Navarrette: A great storyteller, but you have to read between the lines

Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

Bubba is back. And, from the sound of it, he never left.

Bill Clinton did Wednesday what he needed to do for Barack Obama. With a speech that was substantive and entertaining, the Democrats' Great Communicator energized the party's base. He laid out the narrative of the Obama presidency, better than anyone in this administration -- including the president himself -- has been able to do in the last three and a half years. He recited and refuted some of the more damning criticisms that Republicans lodged against Obama last week at their convention. And he assured the American people that he -- to continue a familiar theme from the Clinton years -- felt their pain and understood their worry over a fragile economy.

This being a Clinton speech, there were great lines. The former president pointed out that Obama had appointed to his cabinet people who had supported Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primary. "Heck," Clinton said, "he even appointed Hillary."

And this being a Clinton speech, there were also half-truths. For instance, you remember when GOP vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan was criticized by the left for blaming Obama for not acting on the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles plan for debt reduction, without revealing the little detail about how he himself didn't support it. Clinton called the Simpson-Bowles commission a "balanced approach" but didn't mention that Obama had failed to heed its recommendations.

As someone who writes a lot about immigration, I heard one other line that jumped out at me: "If you think the president was right to open the doors of American opportunity to young immigrants brought here as children who want to go to college or serve in the military," Clinton said, "You should vote for Barack Obama."

He was referring to Obama's announcement several weeks ago that the Department of Homeland Security would take applications from young illegal immigrants who are interested in two years of temporary "deferred action" to keep them from being deported.

Again, Clinton left out one detail that suggests he is the last person who should talk about deporting anyone.

Immigration attorneys tell me that when they're fighting a deportation order against an individual, they first must overcome the legacy of the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act. That law, which was authored by a Republican -- Texas Rep. Lamar Smith -- makes it easier for the federal government to deport illegal immigrants and harder to fight their removals. And who signed that terrible bill into law?

Yep, Bill Clinton. The former president is a great storyteller, as we all know. But, whether he is defending Obama or himself, you have to read between the lines.

Ruben Navarrette is a CNN contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.

Memorable lines from the speeches

Joanne Bamberger: Reaching voters at the 'ragged edge of the middle class'

Joanne Bamberger
Joanne Bamberger

Elizabeth Warren was a great choice for the party faithful to introduce former president Bill Clinton. In the telling of her personal story of pulling herself up by her own bootstraps, as well as her reluctance to take on the bigger political struggle of running for Senate, she was able to connect the crowd with a message that is central to the Democrats' message: that the country has been built on the backs of middle-class people who struggle every day, not the supposed "job creators," a la Bain Capital.

Warren also used her story of creating the Consumer Protection Financial Bureau to remind voters that the system is rigged through the tax code for the wealthy. Using a "calling it like she sees it" approach, she reminded the crowd that there's a big difference for the country between celebrating the success of those who do the hard work of everyday life, and those who funnel money into offshore accounts, something most families can't even fathom.

The themes of the night were inclusion and partnership for Clinton, who used his speech to help map out the clear difference between the two parties, as he reiterated that Republicans aren't reluctant to eat their own if they deviate one small inch from their party line.

One doesn't have to have experienced living at the "ragged edge of the middle class" to have empathy for those who have. Both Warren and Clinton did have moments in their lives when they were at those ragged edges, and that's what makes them powerful voices for their party to reach those voters who are still at that edge.

Joanne Bamberger is the author of "Mothers of Intention: How Women and Social Media are Revolutionizing Politics in America."

Obama to speak after Clinton's forceful endorsement

Roland Martin: President Clinton gives the GOP hell for one night

Roland Martin
Roland Martin

In sports, every coach desires a big game player who, no matter the game or the conditions or the opponent, will show up and deliver in the clutch.

In politics, President Bill Clinton is such a player.

The Time Warner Arena was constantly on fire Wednesday, each speaker giving the next a hard act to follow. But when the 42nd president of the United States took to the stage, there was no doubt that he still has it.

Every major applause line, Clinton hit. And he didn't do so by offering up a lofty speech. It was homespun, down-home. The audience ate it up.

For the GOP, it had to be painful to see a former president back on the big stage delivering a big speech for an incumbent president facing a tough re-election campaign.

President Clinton gave the GOP hell for eight years. Wednesday night, he gave them hell for one more night.

Roland Martin is a syndicated columnist and author of "The First: President Barack Obama's Road to the White House." He is a commentator for the TV One cable network and host/managing editor of its Sunday morning news show, "Washington Watch with Roland Martin."

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the authors.

Part of complete coverage on
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1941 GMT (0341 HKT)
Stuart Gitlow says pot is addictive and those who smoke it can experience long-term psychiatric disease.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1645 GMT (0045 HKT)
Gabby Giffords and Katie Ray-Jones say "Between 2001 and 2012, more women were shot to death by an intimate partner in our country than the total number of American troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined."
July 29, 2014 -- Updated 2357 GMT (0757 HKT)
Alan Elsner says Secretary Kerry's early cease-fire draft was leaked and presented as a final document, which served the interests of hard-liners on both sides who don't want the Gaza war to stop.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1158 GMT (1958 HKT)
Vijay Das says Medicare is a success story that could provide health care for everybody, not just seniors
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1818 GMT (0218 HKT)
Rick Francona says Israel seems determined to render Hamas militarily ineffective.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1743 GMT (0143 HKT)
S.E. Cupp says the entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner thinks for himself and refuses to be confined to an ideological box.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
A Christian group's anger over the trailer for "Black Jesus," an upcoming TV show, seems out of place, Jay Parini says
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 2028 GMT (0428 HKT)
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1939 GMT (0339 HKT)
Carol Dweck and Rachel Simmons: Girls tend to have a "fixed mindset" but they should have a "growth mindset."
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
A crisis like the Gaza conflict or the surge of immigrants can be an opportunity for a lame duck president, writes Julian Zelizer
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
Carol Costello says the league's light punishment sent the message that it didn't consider domestic violence a serious offense
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1251 GMT (2051 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says saggy pants aren't the kind of fashion statement protected by the First Amendment.
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1852 GMT (0252 HKT)
Margaret Hoover says some GOP legislators support a state's right to allow same-sex marriage and the right of churches, synagogues and mosques not to perform the sacrament
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1831 GMT (0231 HKT)
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)
Priya Satia says today's drones for bombardment and surveillance have their roots in the deadly history of Western aerial control of the Middle East that began in World War One
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1635 GMT (0035 HKT)
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1555 GMT (2355 HKT)
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
July 27, 2014 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 2225 GMT (0625 HKT)
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1510 GMT (2310 HKT)
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1533 GMT (2333 HKT)
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1245 GMT (2045 HKT)
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1850 GMT (0250 HKT)
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1349 GMT (2149 HKT)
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 2205 GMT (0605 HKT)
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1142 GMT (1942 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1637 GMT (0037 HKT)
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1209 GMT (2009 HKT)
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.