In 1988, Bill Clinton gave a speech at the Democratic National Convention that was so long, the crowd — composed of his fellow Democrats — cheered when he said the words “in conclusion.” That speech was 33 minutes long. Tonight, Clinton spoke for 48 minutes.
It goes without saying, though, that the audience didn’t treat Clinton to any sarcastic applause when he wrapped up his speech. That’s what happens when you go from a spotlight-hogging governor from Arkansas to a beloved ex-president boasting your highest favorability rating in two decades.
So what did Clinton spend that huge chunk of time talking about? Honestly, it’s almost easier to list what he didn’t talk about, but that would not make for a very informative blog post. So here goes:
Clinton started with a full-throated defense of President Obama’s economic record, reminding Americans of how bad the situation was when Obama took office and how far things have come. He recalled how the economy struggled when he was president, around 1994, 1995, until it started “roaring” in 1996, “halfway through the longest peacetime expansion in American history.” The message: If you keep Obama in office, the same thing will happen again. “I believe that with all my heart,” Clinton declared, drawing on his personal credibility with the American public.
That would have been a fine theme for a speech in itself. But Clinton was just getting started. He lamented how partisan and bitter the GOP has become, and extolled Obama’s attempts at cooperation. He defended the auto bailout. He defended Obamacare. In detailed terms, he praised Obama’s student loan reforms, then dismantled the Romney campaign’s Medicare and welfare-to-work attacks on Obama. Then he compared the Obama and Romney debt plans for a while.
By the time it was all over, thousands of voters who had decided midway through the speech to support Obama had died of natural causes. But Clinton was clearly enjoying himself. He was loose and conversational, and frequently deviated — seamlessly, we might add — from his prepared text, with a short riff on this or that, or a simple “now listen to this.”
It was a pitch not for the base but for the swayable middle. The question is whether they still were watching at 11-something at night on a Wednesday. One independent voter, at least, was convinced. “I thought it was incredible. He really made the case,” former Florida governor Charlie Crist told me in the hallway after the speech. “He couldn’t have been better.”