CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Former President Bill Clinton’s speech to the Democratic convention served as a high-energy validation of President Barack Obama’s policies — and may also have started setting the stage for another White House bid by his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton.
In a wide-ranging address that mixed granular policy details with political red meat, Clinton portrayed Obama as a sensible pragmatist who had put aside any political grudges for the good of the country.
“He appointed Cabinet members who supported Hillary in the primaries. Heck, he even appointed Hillary!” Clinton said to loud cheers and a standing ovation.
He added, “I’m so proud of her and grateful to our entire national security team.”
Obama bested Hillary Clinton in a monthslong battle for the Democratic nomination in 2008 that left considerable bitterness on both sides. Clinton’s endorsement of his wife’s erstwhile rival and willingness to put Obama’s name in nomination represented the final reconciliation between the Democratic heavyweights.
As America’s top diplomat, the former first lady cannot participate in politics. She was on a mission to Asia on Wednesday, leaving her husband and daughter, Chelsea, to represent her in Charlotte. Chelsea Clinton, now a special correspondent for NBC News, led a panel on civic engagement for youth before listening to her father’s speech in the convention hall.
At a news conference in East Timor, Hillary Clinton said he had read parts of her husband’s speech.
“It is a great honor for him to be nominating the president,” she said. “This is the first convention I’ve missed in many, many years.”
Later, the former first lady watched the speech online while at the home of the U.S. ambassador.
The former president didn’t mention his wife again, but the subtext was clear: The Clintons remain a force to be reckoned with in the Democratic Party
Bill Clinton took his time, using the 50-minute speech both to reaffirm his support for Obama and to remind voters of the robust economy he presided over during two terms in the White House with Hillary Clinton prominently by his side.
In nominating Obama as the Democratic standard-bearer, Clinton said the president began the long road to recovery and has laid the foundation for a stronger economy.
As Obama listened with delegates to the Democratic convention, Clinton said Americans have a choice between the winner-take-all society supported by Republicans and a Democratic vision of shared responsibility and prosperity.
Clinton, rebutting the Republican contention that the economy has worsened under Obama, said Republicans would return to the failed policies of the past. He posed his own version of the Republicans’ “Are you better off?” question: “What kind of country do you want to live in?”
Clinton said that is the most important question facing the nation as it decides whether to return Obama to the White House or replace him with Republican Mitt Romney.
“If you want a ‘you’re-on-your-own, winner-take-all’ society, you should support the Republican ticket,” Clinton said. “If you want a country of shared prosperity and shared responsibility — a we’re-all-in-this-together society — you should vote for Barack Obama and Joe Biden.”
Clinton said Obama inherited a damaged economy and “put a floor under the crash.” He said he then laid the foundation for a more balanced economy that will produce millions of jobs, new businesses and riches to innovators.
Clinton appeared at the convention as Obama’s top validator — an antidote to Republican claims that Obama has made the economy worse and a reminder of a recent period in history when the economy boomed.
The Obama campaign sent out a fundraising email under Clinton’s name Wednesday. The message: “It is absolutely urgent we win this election.”
Earlier, Clinton told NBC News he was not trying to promote another presidential campaign for his wife, who will be 69 in 2016.
“We’re not kids anymore. I don’t have any idea if she’ll ever run again. She says she won’t,” the former president said.
Hillary Clinton’s popularity has soared since her bruising campaign against Obama, and she would begin the 2016 nomination contest as a heavy favorite if she were to pursue it.
After Clinton finished his speech, several former aides to Clinton hugged and slapped high-fives in the back of the arena. Longtime adviser Harold Ickes beamed with pride.
“He knows how to make the case. I’ve seen him make the case even when he doesn’t have much to work with. He has a lot to work with,” Ickes said. “He made a very powerful case for re-election.”