Future historians will marvel at the prowess of Bill Clinton, this era’s politician with gifts that stand out far above the crowd.
Eleven years out of the White House and 20 years since he was first elected president, Clinton is still in his prime, a fact he demonstrated this week at a Las Vegas campaign appearance on behalf of Barack Obama’s re-election bid.
There was Clinton smiling and speaking with that lilt in his voice that he’s got some news for you, Mr. and Mrs. American Voter. The subject was Obama’s rival, Mitt Romney. Specifically, Clinton sliced and diced Romney’s head-twisting move to the center during last week’s first presidential debate.
“I had a different reaction to that first debate than a lot of people did,” Clinton said. “I thought, ‘Wow, here’s old moderate Mitt. Where ya been, boy?’”
The former president then compared the Romney at the debate with the “severe conservative Mitt.”
“That was how he described himself for two whole years, until three or four days before the debate, they all got together and said, ‘Hey, Mitt — this ship is sinking faster than the Titanic, but people are still frustrated about the economy they wanted fixed yesterday. So just show up with a sunny face and say I didn’t say all that stuff I said the last two years. I don’t have that tax plan I had for the last two years. You going to believe me or your lying eyes here?’ Come on! What are you doing?” Clinton said.
Devastating. In a few short words, a master of politics is selling a notion of a political opponent as flip-flopper. And, most importantly, doing it with a grin on his face and a chuckle in his voice.
“Where ya been, boy?” Indeed.
It was a repeat performance for Clinton. Last month at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, Clinton did a better job selling Obama’s first term as president than Obama did. Too bad for Obama that there’s not a tag-team debate format that would allow Clinton to step in when the president starts to flag.
Of course, Clinton’s charms don’t work on everybody. Republicans — particularly those elected to Congress — spent Clinton’s two terms in the White House trying to convince everyone of what a louse he was. It backfired, and Clinton left office with high approval ratings.
When it comes to politics in this election season, Romney and Obama can only play backup singers to Clinton’s lead in a foot-stomping anthem that brings the audience to its feet.