DENVER — The Clintons have left the building. Finally.
Bill Clinton did his bit for Barack Obama at the Democratic National Convention last Wednesday night, just as Hillary had done her bit the night before. And now, at long last, they are getting off the stage so Obama can get on.
It is not a moment too soon. For a convention devoted to the nomination of Barack Obama, there has been an awful lot of attention lavished on both Clintons. But the Clintons have returned the favor.
The theme of Bill’s speech could easily be reduced to one word: Ready.
“Barack Obama is ready to lead America and restore American leadership in the world,” Bill said. “Ready to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. Barack Obama is ready to be president of the United States.”
But Bill Clinton is also a charmer. It is his greatest political gift. And he was charming Wednesday night.
“The campaign generated so much heat, it increased global warming,” he said of the primaries. “In the end, my candidate didn’t win. But I’m very proud of the campaign she ran: She never quit on the people she stood up for, on the changes she pushed for, on the future she wants for all our children.”
Along with praising his wife and supporting his party’s nominee, Bill had one great task: to begin his own redemption.
Although his reputation had survived impeachment virtually untarnished — at least among Democrats — it did not survive his wife’s campaign. Never famous for self-control in private, he showed a lack of it in public, delivering finger-wagging accusations in New Hampshire that Obama’s campaign was a “fairy tale” and making racially tinged comments about Obama in South Carolina.
Wednesday night, however, Bill recognized the historic importance of Obama’s nomination.
“His life is a 21st-century incarnation of the American dream,” Bill said. “His achievements are proof of our continuing progress toward the ‘more perfect union’ of our founders’ dreams.”
Bill talked about the “humanity” of America and said: “We see that humanity, that strength, and our future in Barack and Michelle Obama and their beautiful children.”
Some African-Americans, who had been among Bill’s greatest supporters, were shocked and saddened by the role he played in the primary campaign. In the beginning, he thought he would be his wife’s ambassador to black America, but he ended up by being her ambassador to white, rural America. (After all, before Bill was called the “first black president,” he was called the “Bubba” president.)
Some in Hillary’s campaign still believe Bill was misused, his role never clearly defined. “She didn’t want to be seen as Bill’s third term,” a Hillary adviser said. “He was in a rage over how they used him.”
He was in a rage over a lot of things during the campaign, and even those who count him as a great president and a good friend admit that his political victories and political skills come from a different era of American politics.
“He was not used to the 24/7 news cycle and people with cell phones recording what he said at every stop,” a close associate of his told me. “But you can’t blame Bill Clinton for the loss. At end of the day, he was a huge plus.”
Now, both Clintons have a chance to be a plus for Obama. But one of the greatest contributions they can make is to leave the spotlight. There can be only one nominee.
Conventions are a time for unity and good feelings, however, and the crowd received Bill very, very warmly Wednesday night.
Basking in the applause, he said: “I love this.”
And who says Bill Clinton doesn’t tell the truth?