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Bill Clinton: Obama cool on outside, burns for US on inside

Updated: October 7, 2012 8:01AM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Bill Clinton, the Democratic Party’s poster child for an economically-robust America, offered an emotional boost to Barack Obama’s re-election efforts Wednesday night, blaming Republicans for leaving the president with “a total mess he hasn’t finished cleaning.”

Clinton, the two-term president, acted part attack dog, as he hammered away at Republicans, casting them as charting a dangerous route — and part beacon of hope as he underscored Obama’s accomplishments.

“I want to nominate a man cool on the outside but burning for America on the inside,” Clinton said moments after walking onto the stage to thunderous applause.

Capping a program covering women’s issues and jobs, the night reached a fever pitch when Obama walked onto the stage for the first time during the Democratic National Convention, shook hands with Clinton and hugged him, as Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down,” blared throughout the hall.

Watching up close was Clinton’s onetime adviser, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who applauded from the front row of the Illinois delegation with his family.

In a blistering speech that was sometimes off script, Clinton keyed in on what he called the divisiveness of the Republican Party and denounced the meanness of Obama’s critics.

“I grew up in a different time, though I often disagree with Republicans, I never learned to hate the way the far right that seems to control their party, seems to hate our president,” Clinton said.

Clinton told Americans that Obama stepped into a fiscal nightmare when he took office in 2009 and hasn’t been given enough credit for reversing what could have been an all-out economic meltdown.

“In Tampa, the Republican argument against the president’s re-election was pretty simple: We left him a total mess, he hasn’t finished cleaning it up yet, so fire him and put us back in,” Clinton said, his voice dripping with sarcasm.

An at-ease Clinton, known for his populist appeal as an orator, appeared in his element all night, clearly enjoying himself and easily filling in the blanks when the Teleprompter stopped. He often spoke off the cuff, including when he accused Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan of saying Obama will kill Medicare — despite their own voucher proposal.

“I’ll tell you one thing, it takes some brass to attack a guy for doing what you did,” Clinton said.

Later, Clinton took on a somber tone.

“I like the argument for President Obama’s re-election a lot better,” Clinton said. “He inherited a deeply damaged economy, put a floor under the crash, began the long hard road to recovery and laid the foundation for a more modern, more well-balanced economy that will produce millions of good new jobs, vibrant new businesses, and lots of new wealth for the innovators.”

“Are we where we want to be? No. Is the president satisfied? No,” Clinton said, building up to where his audience knew he was going. “Are we better off than we were when he took office?”

The crowd drowned out Clinton at that point, shouting “YES!”

Joining in, Emanuel jumped to his feet.

“Listen to me now,” Clinton instructed to an audience whom he held in the palm of his hand. “No president, not me, not any of my predecessors, could have fully repaired all of the damage that he found in just four years.”

The crowd sometimes interrupted Clinton, shouting: “We love you Bill Clinton!”

Clinton and Obama have endured a complicated relationship, one that prompted heated rhetoric in the 2008 Democratic primary when Obama challenged Clinton’s wife, Hillary Clinton.

One of the biggest applause lines of the night came when Clinton referenced his wife, now U.S. Secretary of State.

“President Obama appointed several members of his cabinet even though they supported Hillary in the primary. Heck, he even appointed Hillary!” Clinton said, drawing a gigantic yell from the crowd, bringing delegates to their feet and putting a big smile on Gov. Pat Quinn’s face.

In subsequent years, Clinton has offered advice and help to Obama and his campaign, which the president took over the years, according to Bill Daley, U.S. Commerce Secretary under Clinton, who succeeded Emanuel as Obama’s chief of staff.

“The troubles of four years ago [stemmed from the fact that] the president ran against Bill Clinton’s wife. It was a pretty tough election,” Daley said. “A lot of it is politics. The president understands the unique relationship between Bill Clinton and his success in the economy — and the American people appreciate that.”

Clinton’s role Wednesday was aimed to serve as a reminder that under Democratic leadership, the country thrived for eight years of plush economic times.

Clinton’s remarks punctuated a program that sprinkled in success stories, including Obama’s bailout of the auto industry, which restored thousands of jobs, as well as a testimonial from former Costco CEO and cofounder Jim Sinegal.

“We didn’t build our company in a vacuum. We built it in the greatest country on earth,” he said, rebutting last week’s GOP mantra criticizing Obama’s “you didn’t built that” remarks. “I’m here tonight because Costco’s story is an American story.”

Part of the day focused on women, with U.S. Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren introducing Clinton, a speech by Sandra Fluke — the woman whom conservative talk-show host Rush Limbaugh called a “slut” because she advocated covering birth control with health insurance — and remarks from Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards, who warned of proposals put forward by Republicans.

“It’s like we woke up in a bad episode of ‘Mad Men,’” Richards said to laughter. She then lauded Obama’s support of women’s health issues. “Thanks to Barack Obama, being a woman is no longer a pre-existing condition in America.”

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