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Emanuel: Obama a ‘once in a generation president’

Updated: October 6, 2012 1:57PM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Tuesday portrayed President Barack Obama as a “once in a generation president” who simultaneously stared down several “deep and dangerous” crises with a steely resolve to protect the nation’s middle-class.

In a rousing speech to delegates on opening day of the Democratic National Convention, Emanuel testified about the president’s values and leadership as only he can. The mayor served alongside Obama as White House chief of staff when the sky appeared to be falling.

The economy was in “free-fall” and “uncertainty and fear” had “seized the country,” Emanuel said. The auto industry was “on its back.” The banks had “frozen up” and stopped lending. More than three million Americans had lost their jobs. And American soldiers were fighting two wars — in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Each crisis was so deep and so dangerous, any one of them would have defined another Presidency,” said Emanuel, co-chairman of the Obama re-election campaign.

“We faced a once-in-a-generation moment in American history. Fortunately for all of us, we have a once-in-a-generation president.”

During a crisis, you learn a lot about a person’s character. During five at the same time, you learn even more. What Emanuel learned was where the president finds, what the mayor likes to call his “North Stars.”

Every night in his residence, he reads ten letters from “everyday Americans” struggling to make ends meet.

“I can’t tell you how many times the president would walk to his desk, take out one of their letters and say, ‘This is who we’re fighting for’” the mayor said.

“It is their voices that President Obama brings to the Oval Office; it is their values I saw him fight for every day.”

The mayor then launched into a revival-style refrain carefully-scripted to counter the Republican convention mockery of Obama’s “Hope and Change” campaign theme.

He recited, what he considers the president’s greatest hits: a stimulus bill that added more private sector jobs in the last three years than the last seven under George W. Bush; banks slowly lending again with the oversight needed to protect taxpayers from Wall Street excesses; bringing the troops home from Iraq and health care reform that presidents have tried and failed to deliver for the last 80 years.

The mayor also talked about Obama’s decision to go “all in” to save the auto industry — without following expert advice to save General Motors, but “let Chrysler go.”

After recalling each one of those achievements, Emanuel repeated a refrain, “That was the change we believed in. That was the change we fought for. That was the change President Obama delivered.”

Emanuel delivered a forceful, first-hand account that concluded with a compelling question.

“Whose leadership, whose judgment, whose values do you want in the White House when that [next] crisis lands like a thud on the Oval Office desk?” he asked.

“A person who said in four words ‘Let Detroit go bankrupt,’ or a president who had another four words: ‘Not on my watch’? A person who wanted to keep ‘Don’t ask, Don’t tell,’ or a president who believes that who you love should not keep you from serving the country you love? A person who believes in giving tax cuts to the most fortunate — or a president who believes in making college affordable for all Americans?”

The Chicago Republican Party charged that Emanuel “abdicated his mayoral duties” to act as Obama’s “character witness” in a statement chiding the mayor for failing to use his “national platform to propose solutions to violent inner city crime or urban education reform,” the twin crises facing Chicago.

“The mayor needs get his priorities straight by putting the people of Chicago first and his political aspirations last,” said Chris Cleveland, vice-chairman of the city GOP.

Not surprisingly, Emanuel’s speech got rave reviews from the Illinois delegation seated front and center at Time Warner Arena.

“It was spectacular. Rahm can tell the stories that no one else can tell. He was there when the decisions were made. It really gives special credence to his evaluation of the president,” said Sen. Dick Durbin.

Asked whether Emanuel sounded like presidential timber, “It’s too soon. I’m sure he’d be the first to say. But, he’s a talented man.”

County Board President Toni Preckwinkle called the mayor’s speech a “recitation of some of the tough choices the president has made. And that’s important for people to remember.”

Gov. Pat Quinn said, “He summarized the courage of the President, the willingness to make tough decisions.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan added, “He did a great job. He went through all the tough decisions and all the things the president did and made a very strong case as to why we need to re-elect him.”

The Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. called the mayor’s speech “inspiring and comprehensive” from a man with intimate knowledge of the President’s leadership style.

After a hectic day of media interviews and politicking Wednesday culminating in a blues club reception, Emanuel is scheduled to return to Chicago to stare down his own crisis: the first an impending strike by Chicago Public School teachers scheduled to begin Monday.

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