I love Bill Clinton.
So do most Americans. His popularity rating is near 70%, which is why even Republicans like Newt Gingrich and Paul Ryan are trying to use him as a contrast to President Obama. If only Obama were more like Clinton, they say. I have not heard them mention how their party impeached him and crucified him when he was president.
Clinton's speech at the Democratic National Convention last night was a reminder that he is the master politician of his generation and ranks with FDR and Ronald Reagan as a communicator of ideas. Last night's speech was a brilliant mix of wit, serious policy discussion and restraint.
Restraint? In a speech that went twice as long as planned and in which 40% of it was ad-libbed? Well, what did you expect from Clinton anyway?
By restraint, I mean that he could have launched into a long defense of his eight years in office, but instead he kept the focus on Obama and on the future. He came off as a statesman but not a dead man. Still vitally involved in the work of the world, but removed just enough from the daily battles to have some perspective.
What I liked most in a speech that I thought was without a flaw was the case he made about cooperation in its opening minutes.
"Though I often disagree with Republicans, I actually never learned to hate them the way the far right that now controls their party seems to hate our president and a lot of other Democrats," he said.
These comments start at about the seven-minute mark in this video.
Clinton went on to praise Republican presidents like Eisenhower (for sending federal troops to protect students integrating schools in Little Rock and for creating the Interstate Highway System), Reagan (for working with him on welfare reform when Clinton was governor of Arkansas), and the first President Bush for establishing national education goals.
And about his current work doing good deeds all over the world through the Clinton Global Initiative, he said: "I work with Democrats, Republicans and independents. Sometimes I couldn't tell you for the life of me who I'm working with because we focus on fixing problems and seizing opportunities and not fighting all the time... The politics of constant conflict may be good (politics), but what works in the real world is cooperation."
After a lifetime in politics, Bill Clinton isn't nave. He doesn't see a world where partisan disagreements just vanish. Rather he sees hope for a political world in which we keep our points of view but learn to work through our disagreements.
Of mayors who have been able to bring together diverse interests on important issues, he said, "They didn't check their brains at the door, they didn't stop disagreeing, but their purpose was to get something done."
I know a lot of people even in this town who vote for Democrats, but aren't strong partisans. They're basically liberals, but they're not true believer ideologues. Bill Clinton's message of cooperation and simple sanity in politics will resonate not just with them, but with the broad middle where elections are won and lost.
If President Obama picks up on this theme and expands on it tonight, he'll get a huge bump out of what has been a pretty darn good Democratic show so far.