Good math: The arithmetic of Bill Clinton’s speech

That was one hell of a classic Bill Clinton barn-burner speech at the Democratic National Convention tonight!

It had it all: folksy southern charm — admit it, you loved that line about arithmetic; using a quote from Regan to pillory Republicans — “They’re at it again!” And a message woven sincerely throughout the speech that we cannot win as a nation until everyone sets aside the partisan politics to fix what is wrong.

Though I often disagree with Republicans, I never learned to hate them the way the far right that now controls their party seems to hate President Obama and the Democrats.

You have to like a man who can talk about reaching across the aisle after he spent years being dogged by a Newt Gingrich-led Family Values-set more interested in going after Clinton with metaphorical torches and pitchforks than brokering public peace. I remember the impeachment hearings.

Clinton reminded us of the troubled economy of the 1990s and the mess of an economy he inherited from 12 years of Republicans who tripled the deficit in their time in the Oval Office. I remember that time, too. My husband and I graduated from college — with a mountain of student loan debt — in the latter half of the 1990s. I know what it is like to be the first in a family to earn a college degree and arrive in a job market that is deep under water after the dot-com era boom and bust.

I understand the challenge we face. I know many Americans are still angry and frustrated with the economy. Though employment is growing, banks are beginning to lend and even housing prices are picking up a bit, too many people don’t feel it.

I experienced the same thing in 1994 and early 1995. Our policies were working and the economy was growing but most people didn’t feel it yet. By 1996, the economy was roaring, halfway through the longest peacetime expansion in American history.

President Obama started with a much weaker economy than I did. No President – not me or any of my predecessors could have repaired all the damage in just four years. But conditions are improving and if you’ll renew the President’s contract you will feel it.

I believe that with all my heart.

The former president, known for giving long speeches and going off-script — which he did tonight speaking for about 45-minutes in a 15-minute time-slot — also didn’t disappoint as a moving orator. Unlike Clint Eastwood’s largely ad-libbed debacle, Clinton’s added flourishes brought home stark realities — like the thousands of children with special needs and seniors who will be kicked off Medicaid if Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have their way with the budget.

They also want to block grant Medicaid and cut it by a third over the coming decade. Of course, that will hurt poor kids, but that’s not all. Almost two-thirds of Medicaid is spent on nursing home care for seniors and on people with disabilities, including kids from middle class families, with special needs like, Downs syndrome or Autism. I don’t know how those families are going to deal with it. We can’t let it happen.

But perhaps more importantly, Clinton broke down the complex coil of lies the Romney/Ryan campaign has been spinning and laid it out like we were all just chatting at the dinner table over a cup of coffee. We’re going to be hearing that “Zee-ro” quote for the rest of the election.

The Recovery Act saved and created millions of jobs and cut taxes for 95% of the American people. In the last 29 months the economy has produced about 4.5 million private sector jobs. But last year, the Republicans blocked the President’s jobs plan costing the economy more than a million new jobs. So here’s another jobs score: President Obama plus 4.5 million, Congressional Republicans zero. [emphasis added]

In short, the former president did what he does best. He brought down the house with emotional touchstones and plain-spoken facts. And, dare I say, he has given the Democrats a potentially potent new slogan, “We’re all in this together.”

The Republican narrative is that all of us who amount to anything are completely self-made. One of our greatest Democratic Chairmen, Bob Strauss, used to say that every politician wants you to believe he was born in a log cabin he built himself, but it ain’t so.

We Democrats think the country works better with a strong middle class, real opportunities for poor people to work their way into it and a relentless focus on the future, with business and government working together to promote growth and broadly shared prosperity. We think “we’re all in this together” is a better philosophy than “you’re on your own.”

It’s better than simply going after Romney or Ryan. Clinton not only jabs at the narrative that we can all pull ourselves up without any help if we only reach down and find our bootstraps. (No boots? You are just too lazy to go find some.) With those two paragraphs, he shows the Republican rhetoric to be the calculating, heartless brand it is. In this speech, Romney and Ryan are reduced to the likes of my toddler, who tends to grab things and then run around yelling, “Mine! Mine!”

Between this speech and that of Michelle Obama last night, I dare say Barrack Obama has had a lot of groundwork covered for him. But it’s not over ’til it’s over.

I was struck by the contrast in musical branding between Clinton’s anthemic “Don’t Stop” by Fleetwood Mac and Obama’s choice, Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down.” After a stirring speech about unity and collaboration, it was a jarring shift between Clinton and Obama as the two hugged and waved on stage. If they ever ask me (and not that anyone would), I would suggest something like Marvin Gaye’s “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing,” Stevie Wonder “Higher Ground,” or how about The Staple Singers “I’ll Take You There”? Or, for a really optimistic approach: “I Can See Clearly Now” by Johnny Nash. Give people the Obama hope that they bought into the first time around.

Another sticky point that I’m sure Republicans will pounce on is Clinton’s math when it comes to jobs. Early in his speech, he adds up jobs created by Republican and Democrat administrations for the past 52 years. The results are a total of 24 million jobs created under Republicans compared to 42 million private-sector jobs created under Democratic presidencies. It’s a big difference. And it’s a slick way to push past president’s job-creating tallies into Obama’s job-growth column. To a public already weary of campaign ads and campaign spin, I’m not sure how well that one will play in the long-run.

But in every political speech there are some smoke and mirrors. And for the most part, Clinton kept the magic to a minimum in order to shine a spotlight on talking points and facts Democrats have been tripping all over themselves trying to deliver in any intelligible way. As usual, Clinton makes it sound so simple and it makes you wonder, “Why didn’t anyone just say it like that before?”

Well, that’s why they call in Bill Clinton. Because nobody tells it like Bill Clinton.

4 thoughts on “Good math: The arithmetic of Bill Clinton’s speech

  1. Pingback: The finale: Obama asks us to keep the faith « The Sin City Siren

  2. I’m surprised no one has mentioned Clinton’s use of the word “arithmetic”. It sounds so much simpler than “math”. Just addition sand subtraction, you know?

  3. Pingback: Top 10 SCS Posts of 2012 « The Sin City Siren

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