Bill Clinton sets aside differences with Obama

Image: Bill Clinton at the DNC
Former President Bill Clinton waves to cheering admirers Wednesday as he prepares to address the Democratic National Convention.Stephan Savoia / AP
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Former President Bill Clinton laid to rest any speculation Wednesday night that he would not enthusiastically back Sen. of Illinois for president by making a forceful call for voters to elect Obama because “Barack Obama is ready to lead America and restore American leadership in the world.”

“I am here first to support Barack Obama,” Clinton said, opening his address in characteristic fashion by deviating from the prepared text aides distributed to reporters ahead of time.

On the night the Democratic National Convention in Denver made Obama the , Clinton acknowledged that his “preferred candidate” — his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York — had fallen short. But, he said, “like her, I want all of you to support Barack Obama in November.”

Clinton’s speech had been as hotly anticipated as the acceptance speech later by the Democrats’ vice presidential nominee, Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware. Clinton’s support for Obama had seemed tepid at best coming in; earlier this month, he sidestepped a question on whether Obama was prepared for the White House by telling ABC News: “You could argue that no one’s ever ready to be president.”

But Clinton made it clear that he was now behind the nominee, declaring, “Barack Obama is the man for this job.”

Turnabout for former presidentIntroduced to the familiar refrain of his 1992 campaign theme song, “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow,” Clinton asked the crowd to cut short its frenzied welcome, saying: “Will you sit down? We’ve got to get on with the show!”

But the crowd refused, leading Clinton to implore, “Sit down!”

Once he got started, Clinton reached back to his own campaign in 1992, when “Republicans said I was too young and too inexperienced to be commander-in-chief.”

“Sound familiar?” he asked. “It didn’t work in 1992, because we were on the right side of history. And it won’t work in 2008, because Barack Obama is on the right side of history.”

The former president said he respected the presumed Republican nominee, Sen. of Arizona, but he warned that McCain would continue the policies of the Bush administration, ticking off a litany of what he characterized as the Bush White House’s failures: falling wages, slower job growth, declining health care and pension benefits and rising poverty and income inequality.

“They actually want us to reward them for the last eight years by giving them four more,” Clinton said. “Let’s send them a message that will echo from the Rockies all across America: Thanks, but no thanks. In this case, the third time is not the charm.”

“America can do better than that,” he said. “And Barack Obama will do better than that.”

The McCain campaign moved quickly to remind voters of Clinton’s previous criticisms of Obama.

“It is indicative of the concern among Democratic voters about Barack Obama’s inexperience that after three full days of the Democratic National Convention, President Clinton was finally forced to testify that Senator Obama is ready to be president, despite his previous arguments to the contrary,” the campaign said in a statement.

“President Clinton was a forceful advocate for Democratic partisanship, but what he fails to recognize is that the problem in Washington is not the Republicans or Democrats in Congress, the problem is that people aren’t following John McCain’s lead to work together to solve America’s problems.”