President Clinton joined House Republicans in breaking the usual tradition of avoiding political rhetoric on Sept. 11, delivering a campaign speech on behalf of President Obama in Florida on Tuesday.
Clinton started off his speech at Florida International University with a moment of silence for the victims of the attack. He went on to make the case that he was honoring the anniversary’s theme of public service by talking recent restrictions on voting rights enacted by several Republican statehouses. More generally, he suggested that a hard-fought election reflected basic American values.
“You know, a lot of what is said in politics today bothers me because we all long for the unity we felt on 9/11 and for months afterward,” he said. “And we know that to some extent that level of unity can’t be continued because we need honest debates. Benjamin Franklin once said our adversaries are our friends because they show us our faults.”
He continued: “But if you believe in honest debate, you believe in it because you think nobody’s right all the time, not because you think, ‘It’s my way or the highway.’ There is a big difference. And if you believe in honest debate, after the debate’s over, you would want everybody to vote, not to make it harder for the young, the minorities, the disabled, for the elderly to vote.”
He told the students in the audience that voter-suppression efforts “ought to double your determination to vote.”
An estimated 750,000 Pennsylvania voters lack a state ID that would allow them to vote under a new law under review by the state Supreme Court this week.
Clinton repeated many of the policy points he made in his convention speech last week, including a lengthy defense of the Affordable Care Act and the White House’s manufacturing policy. He repeated a tough one-liner aimed at Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan for opposing $716 billion in Medicare savings that Ryan included in his own House budget.
“It takes real brass to attack people for doing what you did,” he said.
Clinton described the Republican ticket’s answer to how they would balance the budget while cutting taxes and increasing defense spending as “see me about it after the election.”
“If you had an arithmetic problem to solve and you wanted to get from negative to 0, would your first move be to add negative seven?” he said. “I mean, I’m not making this up — this is their strategy.”
Romney delivered a speech on Tuesday to the National Guard Association, but mostly refrained from directly attacking his opponent even as he laid out his own policy agenda on national security.
President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden stayed off the campaign trail Tuesday, instead attending events honoring Sept. victims in Washington and Shanksville, Pa.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.