CHARLOTTE, N.C.— Sounding at times like a college lecturer and others like a revival speaker, former President Clinton delivered a thumping endorsement Wednesday night of incumbent Barack Obama, saying his policies were slowly healing the country and would lead to dramatic improvement in a second term.
“No president, not me or any of my predecessors, could have repaired all the damage in just four years,” Clinton said in a rapturously received speech that capped the second night of the Democratic National Convention.
“But conditions are improving, and if you’ll renew the president’s contract you will feel it,” he said, jabbing the air with a finger for emphasis. “You will feel it.”
Clinton’s panoramic 48-minute speech — which ran nearly 30 minutes over schedule and well past the designated hour of prime-time national TV coverage -- offered lavish praise for Obama and heaping criticism of Mitt Romney, the GOP nominee.
Referring to last week’s GOP convention, Clinton said that in Tampa, “the Republican argument against the president’s reelection was pretty simple: We left him a total mess, he hasn’t finished cleaning it up, so fire him and put us back in.”
“I like the argument for President Obama’s reelection a lot better,” Clinton went on. “Here it is: He inherited a deeply damaged economy, put a floor under the crash [and] began the long, hard road to recovery.”
One after another, he refuted the charges Republicans have leveled against Obama, at one point citing statistics showing that over the last half-century the country had created tens of millions more jobs under Democratic presidents than under Republicans.
“It turns out that advancing equal opportunity and economic empowerment is both morally right and good economics,” Clinton said, making the case Obama has argued for the role of government in boosting prosperity.
The former president assailed Romney and his running mate, Rep. Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, for accusing Obama of cutting $716 billion from Medicare — a move intended to contain costs -- when Ryan’s House budget proposal would do the same thing. It takes brass, Clinton said, to mount such an attack.
He also blamed Republicans for piling on massive debt, then blaming Obama for his contribution to the red ink. Romney, Clinton said, would make the problem even worse, calling his plan a return to the “trickle-down” policies that helped tank the economy.
And Clinton noted that, contrary to Romney’s assertions in ads and on the campaign trail, Obama would not waive the work requirement for welfare recipients, saying that — as the architect of welfare reform during his presidency — he took the assertion personally. The statement had been proved false, Clinton noted, by independent fact-checkers. “I just hope you remember that every time you see the ad,” Clinton said.
Clinton formally placed Obama’s name into nomination for a second term. After he spoke, Obama strode on stage and the two men embraced as the crowd roared its approval. (The outcome of the state-by-state roll call was never in doubt.)
The vouching of one president for another — who, not incidentally, bested his wife in a bitter fight for the Democratic nomination four years ago -- was a powerful symbolic moment in what had been an evening of unrelenting attacks on the Romney and Ryan.
In a fiery, populist speech preceding Clinton’s remarks, Elizabeth Warren, the consumer crusader and liberal heroine running for a Senate seat in Massachusetts, said the pair would undermine the middle class by slashing the social safety net.
Romney “wants to give tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires … but he and Paul Ryan would pulverize financial reform, voucher-ize Medicare and vaporize ‘Obamacare’,” Warren said.
Running into stiff headwinds resulting from a stubbornly high unemployment rate, Obama and his fellow Democrats have sought to turn the November election from a referendum on the last 3½ years to a choice between the incumbent and his Republican rival, a former Massachusetts governor.
One after another, speakers sought Wednesday night to paint that choice in the starkest terms.
“The most important question is, what kind of country do you want to live in?” Clinton asked. “If you want a winner-take-all, you’re-on-your-own, you should support the Republican ticket. But if you want a country of shared opportunity and shared responsibility, a we’re-all-in-this-together society, you should vote for Barack Obama and Joe Biden.”
Throughout the night, speakers praised Obama’s record: passing healthcare reform, fighting to lower student loan costs, supporting veterans, bailing out the U.S. auto industry. They said things had gotten better under his watch — the country is no longer hemorrhaging jobs, they noted, even if the rate of recovery was disappointing. But the great weight of effort Wednesday seemed intended to cast Romney in the least flattering light.
There were aggrieved stories from workers who said they had suffered when Romney’s Bain Capital took over their companies. “I don’t think Mitt Romney is a bad man,” said Randy Johnson, a former factory worker. “What I fault him for is making money without a moral compass. I fault him for putting profits ahead of people like me.”
Speakers asserted Romney’s privileged upbringing and considerable wealth meant he could not feel for those suffering economically.
“We certainly want those at the top to do well,” said New York Sen. Charles E. Schumer. “But if you base your entire presidency and your entire economic platform on helping them do even better, you’re missing what makes the economy tick, because not everyone has been as fortunate as Mitt Romney. You cannot base your whole approach on a life experience as rarefied as his.”
One after another, women invoked Romney’s opposition to legal abortion and proposal to cut federal funding for Planned Parenthood, saying it would turn back the clock on their rights.
“We’ve come so far, we’ve come so far, so why are we having to fight in 2012 against politicians who want to end access to birth control?” said Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood. “It’s like we woke up in a bad episode of ‘Mad Men.’”
For his part, Romney lay low a second day, locked away in debate preparation at a retreat in Vermont. But he briefly surfaced in a Fox News interview, saying that granting Obama a second term would be “a big mistake.”
“I don’t think the American people want to see this president get another four years,” Romney said. “These last four years have not been good for the middle class in America…. This has not been a good time for the American people.”
Clinton’s appearance was the highlight of Wednesday night’s program, which did not get off before a few hitches. First, Obama’s acceptance speech was moved from the Carolina Panthers’ outdoor football stadium to the much-smaller convention arena because of concerns about the weather.
Then Democrats had to clean up a mess arising from Tuesday’s adoption of their platform, a broad statement of the party’s principles.
Opening the day’s session, Democratic leaders bulldozed through an amendment putting the word “God” back into the document and restating the party’s support for Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Both had been omitted from the original draft, and Republicans had seized on the absence to question both the Democrats’ godliness and their commitment to the key U.S. ally. Obama, who landed Wednesday in the convention city, personally intervened to make the change, according to Democrats familiar with his concerns.
It took three tries, however, and a disputed decision by the convention chairman, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, to determine that the change had the required support of two-thirds of the delegates. To many listeners, the voice vote seemed at least evenly divided, and many on the floor expressed anger afterward.
Warren helped create the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in response to the financial near-meltdown of 2009 and was recruited by Democrats to run against GOP Sen. Scott Brown in Massachusetts. She has struggled in that race, however, and Wednesday night’s appearance was an important opportunity to invigorate her campaign.
Warren and her fellow Democrats had some competition, though, from the National Football League, which opened its season with a matchup between the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants. NBC opted to carry the game rather than the convention.
But it was not just pro football that intruded on the Democratic gathering.
Party officials announced Wednesday that Obama’s acceptance speech, the Thursday night convention finale, would move from the outdoor Bank of America Stadium to the indoor arena that hosted the first two nights of the convention.
With intermittent rain drenching Charlotte since Sunday, party officials had been closely watching weather forecasts. On Tuesday, they insisted the event would go on “rain or shine.” But the possibility of lightning forced them to reconsider “to ensure the safety and security of our delegates and convention guests,” Democratic Convention Committee Chief Executive Steve Kerrigan said in a statement Wednesday morning.
Republicans suggested Democrats moved the speech because they couldn’t fill the stadium. But the Obama campaign denied that, saying they had credentialed 65,000 people and had a waiting list of 19,000 more who had been turned away.
Times staff writers Seema Mehta and Michael A. Memoli contributed to this report.