Bill Clinton's still got it.
The Democratic icon delivered a rousing, forceful speech in Charlotte on Wednesday night, energizing the crowd as he extolled President Obama's accomplishments and repudiated the Republican platform. Here are a few of the salient points:
1. It's still about the economy. Clinton famously thought during the 1992 campaign that "it's the economy, stupid." Wednesday he devoted most of his speech to lauding Obama's record averting an economic depression and nurturing sustained job growth, answering Mitt Romney's newly unveiled line of "Are you better off?" with a simple "yes." Clinton argued that Obama has done well considering the depth of the crisis he faced upon taking office and maintained that Republican policies would make the situation worse, summarizing the GOP's argument as: "We left him a total mess. He hasn't cleaned it up fast enough. So fire him and put us back in."
2. But it's not about foreign policy. Aside from a passing mention of military families and a nod to Obama's history abroad -- "President Obama's whole record on national security is a tribute to his strength, to his judgment and to his preference for inclusion and partnership over partisanship" -- Clinton's speech was devoted solely to domestic issues. That's not to say Obama's presidency has occured solely within U.S. borders, as the death of Osama bin Laden, an accelerated campaign of drone strikes and the successful campaign to oust Col. Muammar Gaddafi can attest. But Clinton didn't mention those things. Polls consistently show that foreign policy is at the very bottom of the list of voters' priorities.
3. The Big Dog, unleashed, can be blunt. President Obama has become more aggressive in criticizing Republicans as he has grown into campaign form over the last year. But Clinton, a legendary campaign politician, was able to go futher, despite calling throughout his speech for more cooperation between the two parties. He bluntly made reference to the Republican Party's antipathy for Obama, saying that "the far right that now controls their party seems to hate our president and a lot of other Democrats" in an unprecedented way. He also offered some occasionally dubious comparisons of the two parties' job creation records, noting Republican obstructionism to offer this synopsis: "President Obama: plus 4 1/2 million. Congressional Republicans: zero."
4. Medicare matters. Clinton offered a comprehensive defense of Obama's health care overhaul (something that likely takes on extra significance for President Clinton, given how the goal of universal healthcare eluded him), and then devoted a sizeable chunk of his speech to rebutting Romney's claim that the Affordable Care Act was "raiding Medicare." It is the Republicans who plan to "end Medicare as we know it," Clinton said, and Romney's promised repeal of the health care law would burden seniors with higher costs. All of this is with an eye to how important Medicare is to elderly voters, who have some of the highest turnout rates of any demographic.
5. Welfare, too. Romney has stuck with his widely discredited claim that Obama is eliminating the work requirement in welfare, a charge that, if true, would mean Obama has hollowed out the welfare reform that was one of President Clinton's signature accomplishments. Romney's attacks must be working at some level, because Clinton took a few minutes to dismiss the accusation and intimate that the Romney campaign has played it fast and loose with the facts: "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."