CHARLOTTE – Had life turned out differently, Bill Clinton would have been a great trial lawyer.

Last night he used his wit, charm and guile – and a lifetime's knowledge of politics – to mount a better defense of, and case for, the Obama presidency than Barack Obama has managed on his own.

Over the next two months it will be up to the jury of the undecided to choose whether to convict the president or give him a reprieve. In the meantime, Clinton's summation gave beleaguered and confused Democrats a road map for how to win reelection in a tough economy, the continued weakness of which many voters blame on Obama.

If Obama, who once derided Clinton as a relic of the past, resented having to call on the former president for help, it didn't show. And if Clinton still thought that Obama's story was a "fairy tale," the former president certainly didn't say so at the Time Warner Cable Arena.

There was no soaring rhetoric; Clinton wisely judged that the jury of voters wouldn't stand for it after all that hope and change stuff.

When Clinton finished his nearly 50-minute instructional oration, Obama emerged from backstage to embrace his defense counsel.

It was a full three-second man-hug, and it seemed genuine, especially on Obama's part.

A larger-than-life figure among Democrats now, the former president filled the hall with his presence like a silver-haired Olympian figure, commanding silence, laughter and applause at will.

It wasn't quite a valedictory.

At 66, Clinton, who has had heart bypass surgery and is devoted to a vegan diet, looked sinewy enough (though some in the hall thought they detected a slight tremor in his elegantly sculpted hands).

Still, for the first time, there was a sense that the Democrats – and the country for that matter – would not soon see another figure of his kind: the maddening yet brilliant mix of brains, eloquence, leadership skill, indulgent self-regard and not-quite-met potential that made him the quintessential Baby Boomer figure.

With Republicans leaving details of their proposals vague – relying instead on the practice of pummeling Obama with statistics about the weakness of the economy – Clinton shrewdly turned defense into offense with specifics.

Privately briefed on the stats and the programs by Obama aides who had once been his own (Obama economic director Gene Sperling chief among them), Clinton cited and explained in understandable detail programs and achievements that have helped dig the country at least part way out of the Great Recession that began in the administration of President George W. Bush.

It was a tour de force of Clinton at his best: sensible, centrist in tone, amenable-sounding even as he depicted the GOP as a party in thrall to a hate-filled extremist wing.

He not only defended Obama's economic record with a series of hopeful statistics and specific accomplishments – the auto bailout, for example – he made the case that the president's approach to the economy, which sees a central role for government in fostering smart, high-tech growth, as the best way to create jobs.

It all sounded so sensible in Clinton's telling, and there is a reason why he is so good at it. As a rising Democratic governor in Arkansas in the 1980s, he had to swim upstream in the conservative tide created by Ronald Reagan. Clinton was a master at it, finding roles for government with a centrist, sensible, pro-business feel.

Clinton also was able to swim upstream because he had years of practice selling the theory of positive government involvement to skeptical Arkansans. In years and years of travel through the state as governor, he learned to explain government in simple terms to conservative country voters at every Quik Stop Market.

Obama had, and has, no such experience.

But he doesn't need it now. All he has to do is follow the Clinton script.




Related on HuffPost:

Loading Slideshow...
  • President Barack Obama laughs with his wife Michelle and his daughters Malia and Sasha after his speech to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

  • President Barack Obama waves with his wife Michelle and his daughters Malia and Sasha after his speech to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

  • Joe Biden, Barack Obama

    Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama wave to the delegates at the conclusion of Presdident Obama's speech at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

  • President Barack Obama waves with his wife Michelle and his daughters Malia and Sasha after his speech to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

  • President Barack Obama waves with his wife Michelle and his daughters Malia and Sasha after his speech to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

  • President Barack Obama waves with his wife Michelle and his daughters Malia and Sasha after his speech to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

  • President Barack Obama waves with his wife Michelle and his daughters Malia and Sasha after his speech to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

  • Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama stands with his family, (L-R) First lady Michelle Obama, Sasha Obama, and Malia Obama during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

  • US-VOTE-2012-DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION

    US President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, daughters Malia (L) and Sasha (C) wave after Obama's acceptance speech at the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, North Carolina, on September 6, 2012 on the final day of the Democratic National Convention (DNC). AFP PHOTO Stan HONDA (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP/GettyImages)

  • Barack Obama

    President Barack Obama speaks at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

  • US-VOTE-2012-DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION

    Supporters listen as US President Barack Obama delivers his acceptance to run for a second term as president at the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, North Carolina, on September 6, 2012 on the final day of the Democratic National Convention (DNC). AFP PHOTO Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/GettyImages)

  • Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama speaks on stage as he accepts the nomination for president during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

  • Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama speaks on stage as he accepts the nomination for president during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

  • Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: (L-R) Marian Robinson, Malia Obama, Sasha Obama, First lady Michelle Obama and Second lady Dr. Jill Biden watch as Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama speaks on stage during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

  • From left, Michelle Obama's mother Marian, Malia and Sasha Obama, their mother Michelle and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Biden, listen to President Barack Obama at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

  • US-VOTE-2012-DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION

    US President Barack Obama as he delivers his acceptance to run for a second term as president at the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, North Carolina, on September 6, 2012 on the final day of the Democratic National Convention (DNC). AFP PHOTO Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/GettyImages)

  • US-VOTE-2012-DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION

    The First family welcomes US President Barack Obama as he delivers his acceptance to run for a second term as president at the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, North Carolina, on September 6, 2012 on the final day of the Democratic National Convention (DNC). From L-R, first row: Mother-in-law Marian Robinson, daughter Malia, daughter Sasha, First Lady Michelle Obama, Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden and Mrs.Obama's brother Craig Robinson (3rd R, second row). AFP PHOTO Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/GettyImages)

  • US-VOTE-2012-DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION

    US President Barack Obama delivers his acceptance to run for a second term as president at the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, North Carolina, on September 6, 2012 on the final day of the Democratic National Convention (DNC). EDITORS NOTE: Image was shot with a tilt-shift lens. AFP PHOTO Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/GettyImages)

  • Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama claps on stage as he accepts the nomination for president during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

  • Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama speaks on stage to accept the nomination for president during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

  • Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama speaks on stage as he accepts the nomination for president during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

  • Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama speaks on stage as he accepts the nomination for president during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

  • US-VOTE-2012-DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION

    First daughters Malia (L) and Sasha (C) confer as US President Barack Obama delivers his acceptance to run for a second term as president at the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, North Carolina, on September 6, 2012 on the final day of the Democratic National Convention (DNC). AFP PHOTO Robyn BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/GettyImages)

  • US-VOTE-2012-DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION

    First Lady Michelle Obama (R) looks over at daughters Malia (L) and Sasha (C) as US President Barack Obama delivers his acceptance to run for a second term as president at the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, North Carolina, on September 6, 2012 on the final day of the Democratic National Convention (DNC). AFP PHOTO Robyn BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/GettyImages)

  • US-VOTE-2012-DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION

    First Lady Michelle Obama (2nd R) looks over at daughters Malia (L) and Sasha (C) as US President Barack Obama delivers his acceptance to run for a second term as president at the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, North Carolina, on September 6, 2012 on the final day of the Democratic National Convention (DNC). AFP PHOTO Robyn BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/GettyImages)

  • Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: (L-R) Malia Obama, Sasha Obama, and First lady Michelle Obama listen as Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama speaks on stage during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

  • Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama speaks on stage to accept the nomination for president during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

  • Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama speaks on stage to accept the nomination for president during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

  • Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama speaks on stage to accept the nomination for president during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

  • President Barack Obama waves to candidates at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

  • Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama waves on stage as he accepts the nomination for president during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

  • Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama speaks on stage to accept the nomination for president during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

  • Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama speaks on stage to accept the nomination for president during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

  • Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama speaks on stage to accept the nomination for president during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

  • President Barack Obama applauds before his speech to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

  • Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: (L-R) Malia Obama, Sasha Obama, and First lady Michelle Obama listen as Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama speaks on stage during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

  • Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: (L-R) Malia Obama, Sasha Obama, First lady Michelle Obama and Second lady Dr. Jill Biden watch as Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

  • Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: First lady Michelle Obama hughs Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama on stage during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

  • Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama hugs his wife First lady Michelle Obama during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

  • Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama waves on stage during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

  • Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: (L-R) Malia Obama, Sasha Obama, and First lady Michelle Obama watch as Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama speaks on stage during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

  • Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama walks on stage to join First lady Michelle Obama during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

  • Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama walks on stage to join First lady Michelle Obama during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

  • Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama walks on stage during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

  • Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: First lady Michelle Obama introduces Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

  • Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) speaks on stage during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

  • Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: Democratic vice presidential candidate, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden waves with his wife Second lady Dr. Jill Biden after speaking on stage during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

  • Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: Democratic vice presidential candidate, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden hugs his wife Second lady Dr. Jill Biden after speaking during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

  • Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: Democratic vice presidential candidate, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden speaks on stage during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

  • Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: Democratic vice presidential candidate, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden speaks on stage during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

  • Vice President Joe Biden waves as he appears on stage to address the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/David Goldman)