Commentary: Clinton Hands Off the Baton to Obama for the Win

With Bill Clinton's dynamic speech last night, he's set the stage for President Obama to bring it home Thursday night.

Posted: 09/06/2012 05:52 PM EDT
Commentary: Clinton Hands Off the Baton to Obama for the Win

REPORTING FROM CHARLOTTE — If you believe the pundits, the Democratic National Convention has been a huge success.

Republican strategist Alex Castellanos said Bill Clinton's speech last night sealed the deal. "Lock the doors. You don't have to come back tomorrow. This convention is done," he said on CNN. "This will be the moment that probably re-elected Barack Obama.”

CNN’s Wolf Blitzer offered his own high praise. "This may be the best speech I have ever heard Bill Clinton deliver,” he said. Political commentators from Fox News to MSNBC seemed to agree.

Front-page photos and headlines in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post also helped by giving the Obama campaign exactly the visual they wanted to show, as President Clinton literally embraced President Obama and made the case for his re-election.

Last week, the Republican National Convention scripted Mitt Romney's "surprise" visit to the convention hall to generate an image of the candidate and his wife to humanize him. The DNC scripted Obama's "surprise" visit with Clinton to generate an image of the candidate with his predecessor to testify for him. In the end, Clinton's testimony will prove far more powerful.

But the work is not over.

Michelle Obama led off the convention on Tuesday with an impassioned and personal argument for her husband and a subtle but strong rebuttal to Mitt Romney's values. Bill Clinton picked up the baton on Wednesday with a point-by-point comparison of Democratic and Republican policies and a fact-based rebuttal of Romney's economic ideas. But tonight is the final leg of the relay, and Democrats come into the arena in Charlotte with a lead over Republicans, at least in comparing their conventions.

As President Barack Obama sprints toward the beginning of the fall campaign tonight, he's just a few steps away from winning the summer. He's already won the battle to define Mitt Romney. He won the battle to put Romney on the defensive. He won the battle to turn Romney's business experience at Bain Capital into a negative. He won the battle to question Romney's taxes and investments. He won the battle over Romney's gaffe-filled overseas trip. He won the battle to define Romney's running mate. And tonight he's on track to win the battle of dueling conventions.

That means President Obama comes into the fall campaign today with a slight lead in the race, but he still faces three challenges tonight in helping to bring his team across the finish line in first place in November.

He must defend his record as the president of the United States who, unfortunately, inherited the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. To help with this message, expect to see a well-produced prime-time introductory video that reminds Americans of what President Obama faced in his first year in office, how he kept his promises and pulled the country from the brink of catastrophe, all while facing unprecedented opposition from the Republican Party.

He must also draw a comparison between his own policies and those of his Republican challenger. All week long, Democrats have been hammering home the difference between the parties as a simple choice between selfishness and community. Republicans believe you're on your own, but Democrats believe we're all in this together, they've said. That's a useful slogan for the party of fairness, but it also needs to be backed up with substantive examples. That's why the president needs to detail a few specific policy differences between his ideas and those that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan would implement.

Finally, the president must lay out his own vision for the future. It's not enough to explain where we've been if he doesn't show us where he wants us to go. The president needs to share with us what America will look like in the next four years under his leadership. This is the argument that closes the deal.

It's not a hard argument to make either. We know that 30 million more Americans will have health care coverage because of the Affordable Care Act in 2014.  And we know U.S. combat forces will be withdrawn from Afghanistan by the end of that same year. But we also need to know how he plans to create jobs and keep the country moving ahead in the next few years, especially in the face of stiff congressional resistance from Republicans.

The Obama campaign has adopted a one-word campaign slogan: "Forward." It's a powerful, hopeful word that represents optimism and progress. And it's a word that conjures up faith in the future, on a path to a better, brighter tomorrow. Tonight the president needs to show us the way.

Keith Boykin is a New York Times best-selling author and former White House aide to President Clinton. He attended Harvard Law School with President Barack Obama and currently serves as a TV political commentator. He writes political commentary for BET.com each week.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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