Bill Clinton’s riveting, policy-heavy speech to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. has received praise from allies and foes alike. One key reason is that it systematically dismantled Mitt Romney’s case for throwing President Obama out of office — both the attacks on Obama’s record, and the GOP’s forward-looking policy agenda.
Here are the eight key GOP arguments Clinton chipped away at.
Clinton summed up the Republican’s economic case against Obama: “We left him a total mess. He hasn’t cleaned it up fast enough. So fire him and put us back in.” He told the roaring crowd, “No president — not me, not any of my predecessors, no one — could have fully repaired all the damage that he found in just four years.”
The ex-president pointed out that his economic policies in the 1990s took years to spur growth and he was pilloried for them until that happened. “He inherited a deeply damaged economy,” Clinton said. “He put a floor under the crash. He began the long, hard road to recovery and laid the foundation for a modern, more well-balanced economy.”
Clinton called the Romney campaign’s claim that Obama has gutted welfare reform — the bipartisan law the ex-president enacted in 1996 — “just not true.” He poked fun at the Republican ticket for purposefully fudging the facts.
“They keep on running the ads claiming it,” Clinton said. “You want to know why? Their campaign pollster said, ‘We are not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.’ Now, finally I can say, that is true. I couldn’t have said it better myself. And I hope you and every American within the sound of my voice remembers it every time they see one of those ads.”
“I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry,” he said of the Romney-Ryan claim that Obama robbed Medicare, “because that $716 billion is exactly, to the dollar, the same amount of Medicare savings that [Ryan] has in his own budget. You got to get one thing — it takes some brass to attack a guy for doing what you did.”
Pointing out that the savings were wrung from provider reimbursement reductions, Clinton argued, “There were no cuts to benefits at all — none.” He said Obama used the savings to close the prescription drug coverage gap, “and to add eight years to the life of the Medicare trust fund so it is solvent till 2024.”
Restoring the Medicare funds as Romney has vowed to do, Clinton said, would reduce the solvency of Medicare by those eight years.
“So if he’s elected, and if he does what he promised to do, Medicare will now grow broke in 2016,” he said. “Think about that. That means, after all, we won’t have to wait until their voucher program kicks in 2023 — to see the end of Medicare as we know it. They’re going to do it to us sooner than we thought.”
An under-appreciated element of Romney’s agenda is his plan to immediately block-grant and deeply cut Medicaid. This pledge has less political valence than his Medicare plan because Medicaid is widely viewed as a health safety net for poor people — not a paid-into retirement program like Medicare and Social Security. But the overwhelming majority of Medicaid’s spending is on services for the the disabled and the elderly, who make up only a quarter of the program’s beneficiaries. Clinton refashioned his defense of the program in those terms.
“Of course, that’s going to really hurt a lot of poor kids. But that’s not all. Lot of folks don’t know it, but nearly two-thirds of Medicaid is spent on nursing home care for Medicare seniors — who are eligible for Medicaid,” he said. “And a lot of that money is also spent to help people with disabilities, including — a lot of middle-class families whose kids have Down syndrome or autism or other severe conditions. And honestly, let’s think about it, if that happens, I don’t know what those families are going to do.”
Tax cuts for the rich, tax hikes for the middle class
Using the word “arithmetic” seven times in the speech, Clinton described the Romney-Ryan tax plan as a farce that — if brought to fruition — would inevitably raise taxes on the middle class or demolish vital social programs like Pell Grants and research, or both.
“If they stay with their $5 trillion tax cut plan — in a debt reduction plan? — the arithmetic tells us, no matter what they say, one of three things is about to happen,” he said. “Assuming they try to do what they say they’ll do, get rid of — pay — cover it by deductions, cutting those deductions, one, they’ll have to eliminate so many deductions, like the ones for home mortgages and charitable giving, that middle-class families will see their tax bills go up an average of $2,000 while anybody who makes $3 million or more will see their tax bill go down $250,000.”
“You didn’t build that”
For good measure, the former Democratic standard bearer also needled the GOP for caricaturing Obama’s recent remarks on entrepreneurship, reciting a quip that “every politician wants every voter to believe he was born in a log cabin he built himself — but … it ain’t so.”
“You see,” Clinton said, “we believe that ‘we’re all in this together’ is a far better philosophy than ‘you’re on your own.’”
Clinton good, Obama bad
The ex-president — rated in 2010 as America’s most popular living politician — also blocked Republican attempts to paint Clinton as a reasonable Democrat and Obama a left-wing ideologue, characterizing the two of them as like-minded partners in the same battle.
“I want Barack Obama to be the next president of the United States,” he said. “And I proudly nominate him to be the standard-bearer of the Democratic Party.”
Sahil Kapur is a congressional reporter for TPM. He previously covered politics and public policy for numerous publications including The Guardian and The Huffington Post. He can be reached at sahil [at] talkingpointsmemo.com.