Pundits: Everyone Likes Bill Clinton Again; Joe Biden Holds His Own

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In a convention saturated with historic firsts, the focus of day three were two speeches by a couple of aging, white, male Washington insiders. But the setting for Bill Clinton and Joe Biden was one they hadn't found themselves in before. For Bill, the Democratic disunity to which, frankly, he has helped contribute, loomed over his speech. Could he authentically make a case for Barack Obama after providing only comically tepid support in the past? And could he restore his own legacy, badly tarnished by his conduct in the primaries and his sulking afterwards? For Biden, a man who's been around Washington longer than the cherry blossoms, there was an opportunity to showcase the assets he'll bring to the campaign in his new role as vice-presidential nominee, as both an attack dog and an ambassador to the average American. So with Obama himself striding up to the podium tonight, how did a pair of his top surrogates perform in the setup?

Bill Clinton
• Mark Halperin gives Bill an A+. The "unambiguous declaration" that "Barack Obama is ready to be President of the United States" was "the most important phrase uttered since the convention began." The speech was "a great gift to the nominee and the party." [Time]

• Andrew Sullivan, despite his disdain for all things Clinton, calls it "one of the best speeches [Bill] has ever given." More than an endorsement, "it was a statesman-like assessment of where this country is and how desperately it needs a real change." [Atlantic]

• Ezra Klein says Clinton "threw the full weight of his prestige behind Barack Obama," proclaiming "that Obama was not only ready, but right." [American Prospect]

• Jonathan Chait thinks the speech was "stunningly good," and predicts that "Clinton could be a huge asset for Obama in the fall." [Plank/New Republic]

• Daniel Casse claims "Clinton gave the strongest, most compelling, and persuasive political speech of this entire season." He supplied "a devastating indictment of the Bush’s eight years, and reminder of what Democratic policies aspire to achieve." [Contentions/Commentary]

• Rich Lowry says Clinton was able to advance "a rationale for Obama's candidacy more grounded and compelling than anything yet to be heard from the Obama campaign." He was so good that "[b]y the time he finished, you could be forgiven for wondering why he'd ever supported Hillary." [NYP]

• David Maraniss agrees that Bill "framed the case for Sen. Barack Obama and against the Republicans in a way that no one at this convention had done before." He found "a path to redemption" and did "all he could to bring Obama up at the same time." [WP]

• Peggy Noonan writes that "deft political pro Bill" switched the focus of the convention from the Clintons to Obama, "one of the great tee-ups." [WSJ]

Joe Biden
• Or was it Biden who changed the subject? John Dickerson writes that Biden's speech finally overcame "a spiritual hurdle" of "moving past the Clintons." It wasn't "the most beautiful speech," but Biden was able to "use his quirky approachability to introduce Obama to voters who have been skeptical about him." His "best pitch came not on the issue of foreign affairs," but "when he offered a little collage of kitchen-table conversations about families facing hard times." [Slate]

• Michael Graham says Biden "made a case, an argument, and did so while making a connection to Reagan Democrats," while the "strategy of attacking McCain's judgment on foreign policy is smart, too." [Corner/National Review]

• Steve Benen thinks Biden "didn't follow the script, literally or figuratively," of what's expected of veep convention speeches. What's important is that "Biden came across as earnest, honest, and sincere ... [and] likable," and "made a powerful argument based on substance, but did so with the kind of raw emotion we very rarely see in speeches from candidates for national office." [Political Animal/Washington Monthly]

• Jennifer Rubin thinks Biden actually gave three speeches: The first and most successful, if also "overwrought," was "his identification with the struggle of ordinary working voters." The second part was attacking John McCain for his judgment, which is "problematic at best because the retort will be furious and Biden himself questioned Obama’s judgment and preparation." The third part was a "foreign policy 'analysis'," which may have been "just wasted breath and time." [Contentions/Commentary]

• Kenneth P. Vogel says Biden "signal[ed] the roles he’ll likely play until Election Day: loyal messenger ... liaison to the working class and aggressive attacker of the Republican rival." [Politico]

• Walter Shapiro claims Biden "hit on the formula that the Democrats are likely to repeat through November": first, "swaddle McCain in praise and affirmations of eternal friendship," then "in a tone more of sorrow than anger, lament how McCain has changed, and imply that he has bartered his political independence for the Republican nomination." [Salon]

• Eve Fairbanks contends Biden treated McCain in too friendly a way — he "just mentioned his friendship with McCain and then went on to critique his policies, as though they were two unrelated things," but he should have "expressed more personal disappointment in his friend," as John Kerry did. [Stump/National Review]

• Jennifer Skalka writes that Biden "gave it his all tonight, but his all couldn't elevate a middling speech, which attempted too much, and in the process fell flat." He tried to cover too much territory but the "pieces weren't eloquently woven together." [Hotline/National Journal]

• Jim Geraghty calls the speech a "snore." It wasn't exactly bad, but it's hard to think of "a more predictable speech by a candidate on a major party ticket." [Campaign Spot/National Review]

Related: John Kerry Finds His Voice in Time to Share Dem Spotlight With Bill Clinton

For a complete and regularly updated guide to presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain — from First Love to Most Embarrassing Gaffe — read the 2008 Electopedia.