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Bill Clinton speech: Has he become Obama's defender-in-chief? (+video)

Wonkish, funny, and (gently) acerbic, the Bill Clinton speech Wednesday laid out a full defense of the Obama years, thrilled the Democratic convention crowd, and lasted 50-plus minutes.

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Then he turned to a sustained attack on the GOP, of the I’m-doing-this-more-in-sadness-than-in-anger variety. He tried to make a case that Obama has been willing to compromise and work across the aisle, in the process using the fact of his wife Hillary’s appointment as Secretary of State as evidence that the incumbent is willing to work with his political foes. Of course she’s a Democrat, but you’d hardly have noticed that if you were caught up in the rhythm of Clinton’s argument.

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Washington Editor

Peter Grier is The Christian Science Monitor's Washington editor. In this capacity, he helps direct coverage for the paper on most news events in the nation's capital.

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He defined the GOP as a party controlled by its right wing and driven, not just by opposition to Obama, but by hatred.

“Democracy does not have to be a blood sport,” he said, to audience cheers.

And then the policy wonk appeared, and Clinton went point by point through the GOP’s arguments against Obama. On Medicare, he noted the VP nominee Paul Ryan’s budget contained the same reductions in expenditures as Obama pushed through with the Affordable Care Act. Congressman Ryan and nominee Mitt Romney now decry those reductions as dangerous to the program.

“It takes some brass to attack a guy for doing what you did,” said Clinton.

On Romney/Ryan’s budget plan, Clinton noted that they propose tax cuts as well as reductions. In essence, according to the ex-president, the Republicans are saying we need to climb out of our debt hole by first digging it deeper. On welfare, he decried GOP attack ads that assert Obama is gutting work requirements. Independent fact-checkers have widely judged those ads inaccurate.

“Their campaign pollster said, ‘We are not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.' Now finally I can say: That is true,” said Clinton, to laughter from the crowd.

But in defending Obama’s record, Clinton implicitly abandoned his own, judged conservative Barnes. When he was in office, Clinton famously once said “the era of big government is over." But now he’s defending what the Weekly Standard writer calls Obama’s “hyper-liberalism."

“On top of that, the Clinton wing of the Democratic party – that is, pro-business moderates and conservatives – has all but vanished since Obama became president,” Barnes wrote.

Plus, Clinton’s speech was just long, and somewhat self-indulgent, said GOP critics.

“The speech went on and on and on, likely sending all but the fawning media off to bed,” wrote conservative Jennifer Rubin on her Washington Post Right Turn blog.

And Clinton may have led his party into a political trap. At one point, he asked the crowd if they thought they were better off than four years ago, and they responded with an overwhelming shout of “Yes!”

That’s a clip that could show up in Republican ads that attempt to portray the Obama administration and its defenders as out of touch with the US.

“In fact, most voters think they are worse off than four years ago,” writes National Journal's Ron Fournier.


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