STIRRETT: Clinton Still Has Classic Touch
Published: Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, September 11, 2012 03:09
True to his legendary oratorical form, President Bill Clinton (SFS ’68) made a convincing case last week at the Democratic National Convention as to why Americans should re-elect President Obama. It was a performance arguably unmatched by any U.S. politician in recent decades.
Clinton opened the keynote address by comparing the job creation records of Democratic and Republican presidents over the past half-century. He did not just talk in the broad rhetoric to which we’ve grown accustomed during the campaigns; rather, Clinton backed his speech up with facts, explaining that 42 million jobs have been created under Democratic administrations versus only 24 million under Republicans.
Too often, politicians condescend to their audiences, simplifying public policy to the point of distortion. What was so refreshing about Clinton’s speech was his decision to speak candidly to the American people, giving them the intellectual respect they deserve.
That same night, Costco cofounder Jim Sinegal gave a strong rebuttal to the GOP’s “we built this” argument that was featured prominently at their Tampa convention. Sinegal articulated the Democratic rebuttal: “We built this together.” He demonstrated how while innovative entrepreneurs first and foremost create great businesses, it is through government spending on public education and infrastructure these kinds of leaders can flourish.
Contrary to some of the more extreme GOP attacks, Democrats do not support “socialism.” Gov. Jack Markell (D-Del.) even opened his speech at the DNC by identifying himself as a “card-carrying capitalist.”
At the core of the Democratic Party’s platform is the belief that government has an important role in empowering citizens to achieve their own American dreams. It is not about giving handouts; it’s about reducing social inequality to increase American competitiveness.
Over the past week, there have been scores of different profiles written on the relationship between Obama and former President Clinton. One of the more astute observations is that if the 2008 Obama campaign was a rejection of Clintonism — Obama did, after all, win the nomination over Hillary Clinton — then the 2012 campaign is about coming full circle and embracing the Third Way moderation of the 1990s.
One of the great applause lines from Clinton’s speech came when he said that his administration was able to create four balanced budgets in a row via “simple arithmetic.” This is the greatness of Clinton: He has the ability to take an issue as complex as budget reform and make it understandable to a broad and diverse audience.
When President Obama addressed the convention, he stressed the importance of fairness, by which he meant giving all Americans equality of opportunity. The past four years have demonstrated how the American dream has become more elusive due to the actions of those who are bent on rigging the rules of the game.
It is the role of government to stop this activity, to create a fair system and empower all Americans to be the next Steve Jobs or Bill Gates.
This is the message that Democrats need to run on this fall. President Obama does not support an enhanced role for government simply for its own sake. For Democrats, it is of utmost importance to assure that government has the ability to create a fairer society, so that the best, rather than the most connected, rise to the top.
Democrats need to move from the rhetoric of the “Great Society” to that of the “Fair Society.” This is a move that will benefit us all. More people denied access to a good education, good health care or good jobs mean an increased strain on the American economy.
A vote for a second Obama term is not just about doing what’s right because it’s right. Creating a fairer society is ultimately about maintaining American vitality so that future generations can have even more opportunity than those living in the present.
Scott Stirrett is a senior in the School of Foreign Service.