(CBS News) CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Former President Bill Clinton on Wednesday night dove into the depths of policy details and soared on lofty rhetoric to make the case for President Obama’s re-election, as he officially nominated the president for a second term.
Answering the fundamental question of whether Americans are better off now than they were four years ago, Mr. Clinton said unequivocally, “The answer is yes.”
The economy four years ago, he said, was in a free fall, losing 750,000 jobs a month. At the same time, the former president acknowledged that millions of Americans are still struggling. Whether or not those voters believe they will eventually benefit from the president’s policies will be the deciding factor in this election, he said.
“If you will renew the president’s contract, you will feel it,” Mr. Clinton said. Appealing to those voters still skeptical, he said, “I just want you to know I believe it with all my heart.”
The former president said Mr. Obama has laid the foundation for a robust economy, but expecting him to usher in a full recovery in four years was unrealistic.
“I had the same thing happen in 1994 and early 1995,” Mr. Clinton reminisced in his 49-minute speech. “Our policies were working and the economy was growing but most people didn’t feel it yet. Thankfully by 1996, the economy was roaring… The difference this time is purely in the circumstances.”
“President Obama started with a much weaker economy than I did,” he continued. “No president — not me or any of my predecessors — could have repaired all the damage that he found in just four years. But conditions are improving.”
Mr. Clinton recalled the booming years of the 1990s that he presided over, noting, “People ask me all the time how we delivered four surplus budgets in a row… I always give a one-word answer: arithmetic.”
It’s a basic premise that Mr. Clinton said Mr. Obama’s competitor, Mitt Romney, has yet to master.
“The Romney plan fails the first test of fiscal responsibility: The numbers don’t add up,” he said. “We simply cannot afford to give the reins of government to someone who will double-down on trickle-down.”
Mr. Clinton blasted Republicans for promoting a debt reduction plan based on tax cuts, when refusing to say what spending reductions will accompany the tax cuts. “So we’ll make the debt hole bigger before we even start to dig out of it,” he said.
By contrast, he said, Mr. Obama not only has a plan to cut the debt by $4 trillion over four years, but one that “honors our values, and brightens the future for our children, our families and our nation. It passes the arithmetic test and far more important, it passes the values test.”
Mr. Clinton also challenged the logic of Republicans on other issues such as Medicare reform. He ridiculed Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan for criticizing the $716 billion in Medicare cuts that Mr. Obama enacted when Ryan’s plan also includes $716 billion in cuts.
“It takes some brass to attack a guy for doing what you did,” Mr. Clinton said to laughs.
In addition to berating Republican policy, Mr. Clinton attacked the opposing party for becoming more resistant to compromise.
“When times are tough and people are angry and hurting, constant conflict may be good politics, but what is good politics does not necessarily work in the real world,” he chided. “What works in the real world is cooperation.”
He added, “One of the main reasons we should re-elect Barack Obama is that he is still committed to cooperation.”
To back up his claims, he pointed to the president’s bipartisan cabinet, along with his appointment of Mr. Clinton’s wife Hillary Clinton as secretary of state. That show of cooperation in the wake of a brutal primary battle, Mr. Clinton said, gave the world a signal that “democracy does not have to be a blood sport.”
Mr. Clinton praised Mr. Obama’s foreign policy accomplishments as “a tribute to his strength and judgment,” and he hailed the president’s health care reforms, detailing the several benefits for consumers. He also swooned over the president’s character, telling the enthusiastic crowd, “I want to nominate a man who’s cool on the outside but who burns for America on the inside.”