Former President Bill Clinton will give a prime-time speech at the Democratic National Convention, right after Elizabeth Warren. We can only imagine what he will say...
Standing ovation, thunderous applause. Clinton finally speaks.
Thank you, Elizabeth Warren. Wow, she was really on the warpath, wasn't she? It was brave of her to bash Republicans like that, since Massachusetts is a Republican state. Haha, just kidding.
Oops... The Teleprompter isn’t working! Houston, we’ve got a problem. Oh well, it looks like I’m going to have to wing it.
The crowd goes wild.
Good thing I took those improv lessons from Bobby DeNiro.
I had such a great speech ready — you’ll have to take my word for it. But there were some things I wanted to say that didn’t make the final cut. Should I start with those?
Well, now that Professor Warren got your blood boiling, I'd like to cool you down a bit... so I can rev you up again.
Let's start with the obvious: the economy is still stuck in the muck. In 1992, our campaign motto was, "It's the economy, stupid." Now, 20 years later, the economy is much worse — so our motto is, "It's still the economy, stupid."
I know we like to keep the focus on Mitt Romney. We love to mock guys like that, right? We call him a Ken doll, or Richie Rich. A Newsweek magazine cover called him a wimp.
I remember when they called my opponent that, President George H. W. Bush. Frankly, I was glad. It gave my campaign a lift. But later, I got to know President Bush. He was a hero in World War II, he was a patriot as president, he was not a wimp. As you know, he became my friend... and an ally in helping important causes around the world.
I don’t really know Mr. Romney. Maybe he is a stiff. But I do know this — I don’t want to see him lose because we demonized him and voters rejected his personality. I want to defeat him on policy and principle. Maybe that makes me a wimp; you can decide that.
I know we need criticism and scrutiny. It’s part of our system of checks and balances. After candidates go through the media meat-grinder, we elect the last one standing. But elections are also supposed to give the winners a mandate to govern. Without a mandate, we wonder: What was that all about? Did we unknowingly decide to continue gridlock?
Maybe I’m old-fashioned. I still think elections should be about solving problems. When I ran in 1992 I was called a policy wonk. I was called a “New Democrat” because I wanted government to be more innovative. But it seems that campaigns just kept getting more negative. I remember campaigning for Hillary in her presidential race (applause). And I remember making a comment about how Barack won a primary that Jesse Jackson also won, and then some accused me of playing the race card. I couldn’t believe it, and I know you didn’t. But I realized then how dishonest and vitriolic politics could be.
I don’t want to see Mr. Romney lose because of character assassination; I want to see him lose because our candidate has better ideas. The difference is profoundly important. If we win the wrong way, the country loses. If we win the right way, I’ll be asking a losing Republican nominee to join President Bush and me in overseas philanthropy.
So now you understand why I made what some folks called a gaffe about Mr. Romney — when I said he had a sterling business record. That wasn’t a gaffe; that was the truth. Yes, he downsized some companies, and outsourced some jobs... along with building businesses and creating jobs. But, having been an executive in an oval office, I have to acknowledge that Romney has real-world experience. Yes, it doesn’t necessarily qualify him to be president — that’s a question of wisdom and vision — but it’s not a negative.
Don’t you wish this darned Teleprompter worked?
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room: the terrible economy. President Obama hasn't fixed it. I know we're not supposed to say that. But the voters aren't stupid — they know things are bad. The president isn't stupid, either. He knew he had to back off from saying, "The private sector is fine" and "Our plan has worked." Just like he had to admit that "shovel-ready jobs" didn't appear after all that stimulus money. Hey, reality is reality.
So let's stop trying to shine this sandal. The economy is stagnant and the government is going broke. We're the party of Harry Truman, so let's say: Yes, the buck stops with the president. He takes responsibility for what he’s done and what he hasn’t done.
Let’s talk about getting results, my fellow Democrats. Let's recall what I achieved with a Republican Congress — welfare reform, balanced budgets and robust economic growth. Now I don't mind admitting I was forced into doing some of that. I compromised with Speaker Newt Gingrich and his gang. And I said, "The era of big government is over." What lesson should we draw from our success back then?
If we are going to be "progressive," we need to achieve actual progress. Unemployment shouldn't be this high, right? Consumer confidence shouldn't be this low. These are things we must fix. When I was president I talked up investment on Wall Street and I praised small business on Main Street. I didn't denigrate entrepreneurs. I wouldn't have said: “If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” Let’s be honest: a president of the United States should not be mocking job creators when we need economic growth.
And with all due respect to Professor Warren, I would not have boasted that I provided the intellectual foundation of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Instead, I’d quote what the late Sen. Paul Tsongas said at this convention 20 years ago: “You cannot be pro-jobs and anti-business at the same time. You cannot love employment and hate employers.” Can I get an Amen?
Have we really changed that much as a party in 20 years? National politics is certainly just as bitter. Partisans on both sides demonize the other. But are we really satisfied with making a case against Romney personally rather than running on our own record — or, better yet, promising to change policies and improve on that record?
There's a new TV series called "Political Animals," and some of the characters might seem familiar.
But we have a higher calling than to just be political animals. We are citizens of a great nation. We have duties that trump party loyalty. The first duty is to help this country recover and prosper again. Most Americans think we're heading in the wrong direction. One poll just reported a new low — only 14 percent believe today’s children will be better off than their parents. We’re called the blue party, but we shouldn’t be singing the blues. We need to get back to being optimistic and offering pro-growth policies.
We Democrats once sang "Happy days are here again," even during bad economic times. We want to be able to sing that again, without irony. Defeating Mr. Romney won't guarantee happy days — maybe happy hours on Election Night, for Democrats who have been campaigning. But to sing that song again, we must change this country’s direction.
The American people deserve candor and collaboration. We haven't had much of either in our politics for many years, including during the time I served as president. But if we want an intellectual foundation for being truly progressive — growing the economy, instead of the national debt — candor and bipartisan collaboration must be the foundation.
Barack Obama promised both but, like most politicians in Washington, he did not live up to our expectations. You may feel that our expectations were unrealistic and we shouldn’t hold him accountable. You may argue that he could not deliver because of the opposition. But great leaders manage to overcome opposition. We have to admit, President Obama hasn’t been as successful as we’d hoped.
In 2004, a new senator from Illinois spoke to the Democratic convention and inspired the nation. Barack Obama transcended the partisan divide, saying there are no blue states or red states, only the red-white-and-blue United States. I hope, and expect, that the same Barack Obama will be here on this stage tomorrow. I hope he will be as effective in critiquing our problems and changing our policies as he was in raising expectations.
Oh, wait... The teleprompter is back on!
Thank you. I am honored to be here tonight. It’s a great privilege to speak on behalf of a great president.
Todd Domke is WBUR’s Republican analyst. For more political commentary, visit WBUR's Daily Political Fix.
This program aired on August 1, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.