KISSIMMEE, Fla. – There was no talk of fairy tales, nor of Jesse Jackson’s long-ago presidential candidacy here yesterday, as Bill Clinton appeared at Barack Obama’s side before a huge crowd at a late-night rally.
Obama and Clinton came to the stage together shortly after 11 p.m., the Illinois senator’s arm draped supportively around the former president’s back. The tensions between the two men that lingered long after the Democratic primary ended were nowhere in evidence.
Clinton, cast in the recently unthinkable role of Obama’s warm-up speaker, seemed somber about the state of the country. “We can’t fool with this,” he said, referring to the presidential election. “Our country is hanging in the balance. This man should be our president. He is going to be our president, unless the American people forget what the election is about.”
Clinton asserted that it was “not a close question [as to] who can best get us out of the ditch.” He ran through a list of four reasons why Obama would be a better president than John McCain. According to Clinton, Obama has a better philosophy, better policies, a better decision-making process and a better capacity to execute his decisions.
Embarking on a further explanation, Clinton recalled that Obama had taken “a little heat” for not coming out with a big, dramatic statement when the financial crisis first struck in the middle of last month. “He knew it was complicated and before he said anything — he wanted to understand,” the former president noted approvingly.
Clinton, however, provoked an outbreak of eye-rolling among the press corps when he added that among the people whose counsel helped Obama come to grips with such a grave matter were none other than Clinton himself, his wife and “my economic advisers.”
(Clinton also noted in passing that he had brought Florida “back into the fold” for the Democratic Party in 1996.)
The former president provided a robust defense for the candidate on the issue of wealth redistribution.
The Republican Party, he noted, “just presided over the biggest redistribution of wealth upwards since the 1920s, and we all know how that ended. … So don’t tell me about redistribution. What Senator Obama has is a plan that works, from the bottom up.”
Obama, for his part, was extravagant in his praise for the man alongside him, describing him as “a great president, a great statesman, a great supporter in our campaign to change America.” He also included Hillary Clinton in his encomiums, stating of the couple that “I am proud to call them my friends” and adding, “We all wish that the last eight years looked a lot more like the Clinton years.”
Later in his speech to the 35,000-strong crowd, Obama also praised Bill Clinton for fostering good relations with the rest of the world – goodwill that had been squandered, he asserted, by the current administration:
“We will restore the kind of moral standing we had around the world when Bill Clinton was president,” Obama promised. “He gave the world a sense that he was listening to them and he cared about them.”
On a lighter note, Obama also playfully dismissed some of McCain’s attacks upon him. He mockingly suggested that his opponent’s campaign had found out that “when I was in the fourth grade, I split my peanut-butter sandwich and gave some to my friend. And they said, ‘Look, he’s a redistributionist!’”
Obama, who has appeared more concerned about complacency among his supporters than anything else in recent days, also urged the crowd in closing: “Don’t believe for one second that this election is over. Power concedes nothing without a fight. We are going to have to work like our lives depend on it.”
The Democratic contender will be hoping his opinion poll lead was further solidified by the 30-minute infomercial that ran across several networks and cable channels shortly before his appearance here. Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki told me the film was “an opportunity for people to see, unfiltered, what Senator Obama’s priorities would be in the White House and how he would lead.”