Charlotte, N.C. – On the second night of their convention, Democrats tried to showcase they are an “open tent,” with a roster of speakers that included a Dreamer (the first undocumented person to speak at a convention), women activists including nuns and reproductive rights leaders, union leaders, and a Latina celebrity. But what brought down the house was a no-holds-barred, full-throated speech by former Democratic President Bill Clinton, who gave a vigorous defense of President Obama‘s tenure during what he described as the worst economic time since the Depression.
“I know many Americans are still angry and frustrated with the economy,” said the former President. “Listen to me — no President, not me or any of my predecessors could have repaired the damage in just four years,” said Clinton. “But conditions are improving, and if you’ll renew the President’s contract, you will feel it. I believe that with all my heart,” he said. Clinton defended Obama’s record on Obamacare, the Recovery Act, and the auto bailout, and said more jobs have been created during Democratic presidents than Republicans.
Bill Clinton then went on the offensive, delivering a scathing critique to the GOP. “Though I often disagree with Republicans, I never learned to hate them the way the far right that now controls their party seems to hate President Obama and the Democrats,” said Clinton. In contrast, he said, Obama is committed to cooperation, saying he appointed former rivals to top positions in his administration. “Heck, he even appointed Hillary!” he said to laughter.
“The most important question is, what kind of country do you want to live in?” said the former Democratic president. “If you want a you’re-on-your-own, winner-take-all society, you should support the Republican ticket. If you want a country of shared prosperity and shared responsibility — a we’re-all-in-this-together society — you should vote for Barack Obama and Joe Biden.”
Democratic leaders were hoping Bill Clinton would fire up voters in an election season which may lack the luster of 2008. Latino Decisions’ political scientist Matt Barreto says Clinton was a smart choice, especially as the party tries to attract Latino voters. “Our polling shows Bill Clinton left office with very high favorability ratings among Latinos,” said Barreto.
Before Clinton’s closing speech, one of the evening’s featured speakers was Cristina Saralegui, the well-known Latina “Oprah,” who freely mixed English and Spanish to make her case for why she is supporting Obama. “Mi gente, for the first time in my life, the promise of America is in danger,” said Saralegui. The Cuban-American celebrity then took on Republican candidate Mitt Romney: “Governor Romney would turn Medicare from a guarantee into una libreta de cupones — a book of coupons,” said Saralegui. “He would repeal health care reform, forcing millions of Hispanics to lose insurance. Governor Romney’s plan is really just one word: pa’trás—backward,” she said. Saralegui then criticized Romney’s support of the Arizona’s SB1070. “No protesten—voten!,” said Saralegui, ending with “pa’lante, pa’lante, pa’trás ni pa’ coger impulso,” (forward, forward, no turning back).
Before Saralegui spoke, she was introduced by Benita Veliz, a Dreamer from San Antonio, Texas, and the first undocumented immigrant to speak at a party convention, as reported by the Washington Post. Veliz, who was brought here as a child, came out on stage to cheers from the convention crowd after a short video of Dreamers, with remarks by President Obama, was shown. Veliz talked about being the class valedictorian and earning a double major by age 20, and feeling “as American” as her friends or neighbors. “But I’ve had to live almost my entire life knowing I could be deported just because of the way I came here,” said Veliz, adding “President Obama fought for the DREAM Act to help people like me.” Veliz received cheers and a big applause from the crowd, and some people stood up when she spoke. Congressman Luis Gutierrez also spoke, saying “We are truly American when we live up to our original promise of liberty and celebrate those quintessentially American words — “All men are created equal,” and stating he thought Obama did this by signing deferred action.
The “woman vote” is one which is being closely courted by both parties. Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards received wide applause in the convention floor with her sharply-worded remarks, saying she felt she had woken up in a bad episode of “Mad Men.” “Now, Mitt Romney is campaigning to get rid of Planned Parenthood and overturn Roe v. Wade,” said Richards. “This year women learned that if we aren’t at the table, we’re on the menu. So this November, women are organizing, mobilizing and voting for the leaders who fight for us,” she said. And Sandra Fluke, the young woman who was called a “slut” by conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh when she advocated for birth control coverage by her Catholic employer, said it is time to “choose” between two different parties.
And in a counterpunch to last week’s Republican critique of Obama’s economic policies, Harvard economist and consumer protection advocate turned Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren said Ryan and Romney would “pulverize” financial reform and “vaporize” health care reform.
Barreto says Warren’s as well as other speakers’ economic messages, which contrasted their beliefs that Obama’s programs are aimed at advancing the middle and working class while Republicans defend Wall Street interests, is an effective way to galvanize the Democratic base – including Latinos.
“In our recent poll 59 percent of Hispanics say they trust Obama more than Romney on the economy, so in a tight election, the Democrats are smart in emphasizing their support for policies which are aimed at helping the working and middle class,” Barreto says.
But the night clearly belonged to Bill Clinton’s speech. “I want to nominate a man who is cool on the outside, but burns for America on the inside,” said Clinton about Obama, hoping to convince voters to give his successor in the White House another chance.