Thursday, September 06, 2012

Bill Clinton gets personal

Well, it took Bill Clinton a long time to get to the heart of his speech. But what a mighty heart it proved to be. What a giant enterprise. He set himself singlehandedly to counter a billion dollars in attack ads, to break through the core Republican lies and obfuscations.  The big ones, the ones about high-stakes policy: Obama is gutting Medicare. Obama is gutting welfare reform.   Huge cuts to Medicaid won't devastate the poor, the nursing home population, the disabled.  Obama is exploding the debt.  Romney will cut taxes by $5 trillion and reduce the debt.

Listen to me, he said repeatedly in the epic debunk session. He said it secure in the authority conferred by eight years of successful budget combat. Unlike other speakers (who else could take/command the time?) he drilled down in (sometimes fudged) detail. Republicans quadrupled the debt in the 12 years before I took office and doubled it in the eight years after I left office. Listen to me. Obama's state waivers for welfare work requirements are to enable initiatives to increase job placements, not diminish them. This is personal for me -- to claim the opposite is just not true. Obamacare's Medicare cuts are to insurer and provider reimbursements, not coverage for seniors.  I want you to listen -- by erasing the ACA's Medicare cuts, the Republicans will bid fair to end Medicare by 2016.

He was setting himself against a gigantic force. To the television audience, his plea was, listen to me, not to Crossroads GPS or Americans for Prosperity. He set up that duel explictly with respect to the most racially loaded lie, that Obama is gutting welfare reform (just found the text):
Here’s what happened.  When some Republican governors asked to try new ways to put people on welfare back to work, the Obama Administration said they would only do it if they had a credible plan to increase employment by 20%.  You hear that? More work.  So the claim that President Obama weakened welfare reform’s work requirement is just not true. But they keep running ads on it. As their campaign pollster said “we’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers.” Now that is true. I couldn’t have said it better myself – I just hope you remember that every time you see the ad.
To break through, he managed to be both simple and detailed, to cast an economic argument as simple arithmetic:
People ask me all the time how we delivered four surplus budgets.  What new ideas did we bring? I always give a one-word answer: arithmetic.  If they stay with a 5 trillion dollar tax cut in a debt reduction plan – the – arithmetic tells us that one of three things will happen: 1) they’ll have to eliminate so many deductions like the ones for home mortgages and charitable giving that middle class families will see their tax bill go up two thousand dollars year while people making over 3 million dollars a year get will still get a 250,000 dollar tax cut; or 2) they’ll have to cut so much spending that they’ll obliterate the budget for our national parks, for ensuring clean air, clean water, safe food, safe air travel; or they’ll cut way back on Pell Grants, college loans, early childhood education and other programs that help middle class families and poor children, not to mention cutting investments in roads, bridges, science, technology and medical research; or 3) they’ll do what they’ve been doing for thirty plus years now – cut taxes more than they cut spending, explode the debt, and weaken the economy.  Remember, Republican economic policies quadrupled the debt before I took office and doubled it after I left.  We simply can’t afford to double-down on trickle-down.
The speech rambled through some mush early on. There was a strained argument that Obama was a great compromiser because he hired former Democratic rivals.* The written speech is tighter than the spoken one. But when he got to Obama, he delivered a more robust and detailed litany of his accomplishments in office than any prior speaker.  And when he got to the GOP proposals and attacks, he spoke as if his own legacy, and the country's future, were on the line. It really was personal.

*Update: according to the Atlantic, Obama's people "most likely" cut this section, but Clinton put it back in.

Related:
When Clinton edits Clinton

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