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Tuesday, February 19 , 2019, 7:51 pm | Fair 49º


Mark Shields: Clinton’s Winning Speech — Third Term, Anyone?

Former president makes a strong and memorable case for the 2012 Democratic ticket

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In the past 76 years — since Franklin Roosevelt carried 46 of the then 48 states against Republican Alf Landon — just one Democratic president has been re-elected to a second White House term. Republicans who were unable to defeat Roosevelt in four presidential contests exacted posthumous vengeance upon FDR by winning ratification in 1951 of the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees that no person shall be elected to the office of president more than twice.

After this city’s Democratic convention, that amendment may be effectively “repealed,” because in 2012 Democrat Bill Clinton, his party’s only chief executive to have won re-election since FDR, could be said to be running for his third White House term.

To watch President Barack Obama make his first appearance on the Charlotte convention stage there to congratulate and thank Clinton after his speech was, for this observer, to see an expression of admiring awe this observer had never before seen on Obama’s face.

It was completely understandable, because in less than 45 minutes, the 42nd president had just made a better public case for the Obama administration than the Obama administration had made for itself in 45 months.

And a better case than the 44th president would make for himself and his own re-election the next night.

There is an old Marine Corps maxim that states that no duty station is better than the one the Marine just left and none is worse than the one to which the Marine is currently assigned.

The same may be true for presidents. Clinton has rebounded from the dark days following his 12th-hour pardon of fugitive financier and tax cheat Marc Rich, a certified sleazeball who had repudiated his own U.S. citizenship. Eleven years later, after humanitarian work on a global scale, Clinton is that rare American ex-president who is not only favorably regarded by seven out of 10 of his countrymen, but who is the featured guest of honor and star attraction at his party’s national conventions.

Ironically, the totally scandal-free Obama seeks the political equivalent of “innocence by association” through sharing the spotlight and the platform with the only U.S. president impeached by the House of Representatives in the past 144 years.

Why? Because Clinton has the ability, lacking in both Obama and his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, to “connect” with people in a personal way. Clinton possesses both the human touch and the rare gift of being able to convince almost anyone whom he meets — I can testify — that he, Bill Clinton, has been on this planet for 66 years just for these precious minutes he is spending with you.

Clinton likes, maybe needs, attention and affection, while the self-contained Obama needs Clinton. Temperamentally and politically, theirs is a shotgun wedding.

In his convention speech, Clinton did something rare in U.S. politics: He treated his audience like they were grown-ups capable of understanding policy and able to process political arguments he frames that rise above the intellectual level of a bumper sticker or a wall poster. He even commended — by name and for cause — Republican presidents who had used government to bring justice and progress to the nation’s people.

This was a convention where speaker after speaker unsubtly caressed the erogenous zones of the body politic, especially on the thorny issue of abortion — where a majority of voters, including more than one out of three Democrats according to Gallup, self-identify as “pro-life’ rather than “pro-choice” — totally unrestricted access to which has become a Democratic commandment on which no argument will be brooked.

So, after Charlotte and Obama’s solid but unmemorable acceptance speech, the 2012 Democratic ticket — with all due respect to the completely loyal Joe Biden — will be Clinton-Obama.

Mark Shields is one of the most widely recognized political commentators in the United States. The former Washington Post editorial columnist appears regularly on CNN, on public television and on radio. Click here to contact him.

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