Bill Clinton’s unprecedented involvement in politics after his presidency will continue at the Democratic National Convention as he will endorse President Obama for a second term. In 2008, Clinton’s DNC speech was excellent in selling Obama to undecided voters. Despite some opinions to the contrary, associating himself with Clinton is an incredibly smart, low-risk move for Obama.
Clinton is arguably the best American politician in the last thirty years, with the exception of Reagan. How many politicians, particularly presidents, involved in a number of personal scandals are remembered in a positive light? Clinton’s charisma, enthusiasm, and intangible ability to connect to the average voter make him an effective communicator, and a force to be reckoned with in politics.
By nature of being president during, or what is promoted and generally understood as the most prosperous decade in history, Clinton has plenty of credibility among the American people, and is generally viewed favorably by all age groups. He relates to seniors because he is one now, and his colorful rhetoric is appealing to younger and middle-aged voters.
One of his greatest skills is not making voters disillusioned when criticizing other politicians. Clinton’s consistent use of the “no new taxes” pledge against Bush in the 1992 election secured his victory over a candidate that seemed unbeatable a year earlier (Bush had an 87% approval rating in March 1991 right after the brief and successful Persian Gulf War).
Attack ads by Obama have failed to truly change the mind of voters. If anything, negative attacks are a turnoff for many. In 2008, Clinton strategically criticized the Bush administration at the DNC and subsequently highlighted Obama’s plans to bring greater economic prosperity to the United States. Clinton has the ability to properly commend his adversaries for their achievements, while simultaneously and meticulously dissecting their record. For instance, Clinton praised John McCain in his 2008 address by saying "The Republicans will nominate a good man who served our country heroically and suffered terribly in Vietnam. He loves our country every bit as much as we all do. As a Senator, he has shown his independence on several issues."
He then pivoted, stating "But on the two great questions of this election, how to rebuild the American Dream and how to restore America's leadership in the world, he still embraces the extreme philosophy which has defined his party for more than 25 years." Juxtaposing these two images, he put forth his respect for McCain, but conveyed why he did not believe McCain was the right choice for president.
Similarly, Clinton will be able to use the same strategy against Mitt Romney in his 2012 speech. He has praised Romney’s experience as governor and “sterling business career,” and said that it “crossed the qualification threshold” for president. In the same interview, however, he criticizes Romney for not putting forth policy proposals to change the economy. This approach for attack is incredibly vital for President Obama, as it does not turn off voters nearly as much, and Bill Clinton is the master of it.
The only “risk” is that Clinton may talk about his economic record excessively and overshadow Obama. Even this is preferable, as it distracts from the shortcomings of the Obama administration by hailing the economic accomplishments during the term of another Democratic president.
In the world of politics, associating yourself with someone else that is perceived as successful is extremely smart. Irrespective of your views on President Obama, involving the economic record and oratory prowess of Bill Clinton at the DNC is an incredibly intelligent move.