As a progressive activist, I've had plenty of criticisms of President Clinton, particularly for his triangulation and for his deregulation of the financial industry. (I've had my fair share of similar criticisms of President Obama, too).
But as a political junkie and student of politics, I stand in awe of Bill Clinton. As a practitioner of the art of politics, Clinton towers over any other politician of the past 30 years. He's quite simply the Michael Jordan of politics, the Roger Federer of politics.
As author Scott Turow once wrote of Michael Jordan, "Michael Jordan plays basketball better than anyone else in the world does anything else." To paraphrase Turow, "Bill Clinton does politics better than anyone else in the world does anything else."
I first saw Bill Clinton speak in the early winter of 1992 at a fundraiser at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, even before the first primaries of that political season. I was struck dumb by Clinton's ability to address a crowd of nearly 1000 and make every person in the room feel as though he was speaking directly and personally to them. It's a magic trick that I've never found any other politician who could quite match. At that moment, I knew that Bill Clinton would be president.
Clinton's 48-minute national policy teach-in at the Democratic Convention in Charlotte endorsing President Obama's reelection may have been the greatest piece of political oratory of the 21st century so far, surpassing even Obama's own keynote address at the 2004 Democratic convention that catapulted Obama into the national spotlight.
And if President Obama defeats Mitt Romney in this tight, nearly 50-50 presidential race, Clinton's speech may be remembered by historians as the piece that put Obama over the top and guaranteed that, at least for four more years, Republicans will not succeed in their goal of dismantling a century of social and economic progress going back to the progressive era, the New Deal, and the Great Society. I don't want to be hyperbolic, but if that comes to pass, like the union soldiers at Gettysburg, this son of the South may have saved our More Perfect Union for a new generation.