(Photo: Mark Peterson on Instagram for GQ)
By Marc Ambinder, GQ
That day started with the musty odor of the Democratic Party of yore: a floor fight over a small and symbolic platform plank about Jerusalem. Republicans have a couple of sound-bites to play for their base on their radio shows today: some boos at the mention of the word "God-given" and Jerusalem's status.
The day ended with Bill Clinton's crackling call for Americans to give Barack Obama a new chance. His speech finally provided a clean answer to two questions the Democrats have had trouble answering: Are you better off today than you were four years ago? And how come Barack Obama didn't change Washington?
For the Obama coalition, and for that small squiggly line showing the preferences of truly independent likely voters who pay attention to things, the second question is just as troubling as the first. Obama was slow to appreciate how unfixable Washington was: the system builds sclerosis as a way of keeping established interests in power and because Republicans adjusted to the reality of a much more conservative activist party. Basically, he over-promised. Despite all that, you would think that the Democratic Party would not cheer at the idea of compromise. Its own activists spent the past four years imploring the President to man up and be a Democrat.
Bill Clinton managed to build a bridge between these two warring ideas: it was precisely because Obama believed in the potential for compromise that the things that got done got done, the things Democrats liked. And even if you don't think, as a Democrat, that he did enough, know that he is, fundamentally, a much more decent person than Republicans are.
Like any group of people, Democrats want to feel good about their choices. Barack Obama doesn't want Democrats looking at him and wondering what would have happened if Hillary Clinton had been nominated instead. Bill made Democrats feel good about their choice last night. Appropriately, only he could do that. No one represents muscular Democratic activism than he does, which is quite an irony, given how moderate his presidency was. And, of course, he is a Clinton. Hillary's most vociferous advocate.
It is sort of amazing how simple it was for Clinton to say what so many in the party have been afraid to: it takes longer than four years to clean up the mess created by the Bush administration. In one paragraph: "Are we where we want to be? No. Is the President satisfied? No. Are we better off than we were when he took office, with an economy in free fall, losing 750,000 jobs a month. The answer is YES."
Clinton's speech was so on point -- so just what Democrats needed to hear -- that it may not matter if it is better than President Obama's acceptance speech tonight. (Obama's campaign manager, Jim Messina, walked unrecognized to a delegation party last night and was beaming.)
You know Clinton believes what he's saying because Obama has borrowed quite heavily from the former president's playbook. If Obama succeeds now, it is because the ideas and policies that Democrats can proudly use to draw contrasts with actually work. The theory that Clinton privately wants Mitt Romney to run because he thinks a Romney presidency will make it easier for Hillary Clinton to win in 2016 is not well thought out. Continuity, rather than abrupt vacillations, better validates Clinton's legacy. And Hillary -- well, the political class kind of assumes she'll run and win regardless.
In Tampa, Paul Ryan energized conservatives, but the party has to reach all the way back to Ronald Reagan in order to suggest to Americans that their policy tilt is the turn to take. The party is most certainly not thrilled yet with its nominee, it is anxious about the influence of George W. Bush presidency, and it has no real argument to make to independents except for the one that Bill Clinton rather successfully rebutted Wednesday night.
This story originally appeared on GQ.com: Bill Clinton Makes Democrats Feel Good About Their Choices