The Race: Bill Clinton still has the magic

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If one man could best make the case for the past four stumbling, confused, puzzled, frustrating and disappointing years of the Obama presidency at last week’s Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., Bill Clinton, the grand master of American Politics – was of course the only one to do it. And as usual he delivered in spades.

The old magician has not lost his touch – despite all the claims of the conservative prognosticators who continue to foam in the mouth in vain at him. The president’s growing lead in the polls since the convention ended has probably as much to do with Bill’s speech – and that of John Kerry – as with the president’s own, effective though that was.

Conservative news platforms were full of articles claiming Clinton’s Day Two speech to the Charlotte convention was disappointing, recycled, blasé – you name it. In their eagerness to cut down what was easily the most successful speech of the convention, they only succeeded in sounding like Prohibitionists railing against the Demon Drink outside the Speakeasies of the Roaring Twenties, or medieval witch-hunters frantically trying to exorcize visions of a feared devil who secretly fascinated them.

Just think what Clinton could have done for Gore?

If you doubt the remarkable success of Bill Clinton in Charlotte, just remember how much of a non-person his successor, George W. Bush, was at the GOP confab down in Tampa the week before.

Invisible Man does not do G.W. justice. He has become the GOP’s Phantom of the Opera, its Orwellian non-person.

If you watched the RNC in Tampa, you saw not the slightest hint that George W. Bush was POTUS for eight full years. He was never president. Condoleezza Rice, Robert Zoellick, Paul Wolfowitz and all-the-other familiar faces straining at the bit and as they waited in the wings for their glorious return never served Bush II loyally for a second, let alone for eight years. It must have been some other guy.

Yet in Charlotte there was Bill Clinton, 12 years gone from the White House, obviously thinned down and not quite in his full physical vigor of 20 years ago, but as witty, as on-message, as joyously aggressive as ever. And the crowd loved it: Now, as always before, indisputably the Star of the Show. Barack Who?

Says it all.

What other ex-presidents in the past century strode so large on the national stage three full presidential terms after they left the Oval Office? You would have to go back to Theodore Roosevelt up to his death at the end of 1919 to find one.

In Tampa, Bush 43 was dropped by his own party into the burn-basket of an Orwellian memory hole. But in Charlotte, Bill Clinton’s only problem was that, as usual, he effortlessly towered over the successor he had come to extoll.

The supposed bitterness between the current Democratic president and his party predecessor was always much more a product of the over-fertile imagination of the Time and Newsweek tweeting crowd than reality. The genuinely impressive and effective partnership between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton has been the stable foundation of their enduring harmony, and since Bill was already a model former president for George W. Bush, it was hardly a stretch for him to play the role for the current incumbent as well.

Clinton’s speech in Charlotte confirmed that his stature has steadily grown every day since he left the White House, just as the stature of his two successors has steadily shrunk. Big Bill remains the only Democrat since Franklin Roosevelt, who died 67 years ago, to successfully win re-election – and then to serve out two full terms in the White House. No wonder Barack Obama wants some of that karma to belatedly rub off on him.

I doubt Bill Clinton has the physical stamina to barnstorm the country for Obama across all the key Battleground states. But if he does still have that Right Stuff, he would easily be Obama’s best hope for victory.

Eight years ago Al Gore was too proud and just too plain stupid to let Bill Clinton storm the Heartland for him. Had he done so, Clinton would certainly have helped him win at least one of four crucial Heartland states that he lost — Arkansas, West Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky. Winning just one of them would have put Gore into the Oval Office and the Lincoln Bedroom. Right now Obama is in dire straits in all of them because of his clear hostility to coal mining and the use of coal as a major fuel.

The Return of the Comeback Kid has to be both bitter and puzzling for Barack Obama: Only four years ago, he won the greatest Democratic victory since 1964 dwarfing the Clinton triumphs of 1992 and 1996. Yet today, it’s all blown to the winds. And all that magical charisma of four years ago has gone as well.

The tired and wiser man in the White House now seems older, more exhausted than the man who served twice as long as president starting two decades ago. How strange that the old guy with the white hair now has the answers The Man needs.

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