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Trotting out Bill Clinton

Sep 6, 2012 - By Steven R. Peck

The former president still has "it," as he proved Wednesday at the convention

If you ever have a cause that you believe in, or an office that you seek, or a candidate that you support, or a position that you are trying to legitimize, or an enterprise that needs public support -- or some swampland you want to unload -- your wildest dream ought to be the endorsement of Bill Clinton.

We know, we know. He was never Wyoming's favorite son. Our state voted for Bush in 1992 and Dole in 1996. As a political candidate, he didn't have majority backing in our state.

But, speaking Wednesday night at the Democratic National Convention, Clinton, now 66 years old and out of office for nearly 12 years, showed he's still "got it."

Whatever the "it" is, the former president put it on full display before the roaring convention crowd in Charlotte during an exuberant, rousing speech in nomination of President Obama to a second term.

You don't have to like Clinton to appreciate that he is one of the greatest speechmakers ever to take the podium in American politics. That obvious fact still peeves Republicans mightily as they try to find someone who can match "Slick Willie" with a microphone in his hand.

In this election year when Republican dislike for President Obama is intense, the party craves somebody who can ignite a crowd the way Clinton did Wednesday, and with his influence.

The major figures of recent Republican leadership were all but banished from the GOP convention last week in Tampa. No George W. Bush, nor even George H.W. Bush. No Dick Cheney, no Colin Powell. No John McCain. No Sarah Palin or Dan Quayle or Donald Rumsfeld. When they cast about for a top Republican official of recent times, only Condoleezza Rice was deemed acceptable at convention time.

Meanwhile, the Democrats can roll out Clinton every four years for some flaming brimstone that simply makes Rice look dull by comparison.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio fired up the crowd, as did vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan. But neither of them is a two-term president whose wife is Secretary of State. It just isn't the same.

Clinton is one of our confounding modern political figures. He never won even 50 percent of the popular vote in his presidential elections (Ross Perot was there both times, remember?). His sex scandal while in office was the stuff of British tabloids. He was one of just two presidents ever to be impeached. Many press the argument that he deserves to be viewed as a disgrace.

Yet he left office with a 66 percent approval rating, considerably higher than any other president's -- including Ronald Reagan, who retired to California riding 56 percent approval in 1989.

Put another way, the majority of the country never voted for Bill Clinton, but two-thirds of it still approved of him.

By virtually all accounts he is viewed as the most effective ex-president in history, working energetically and successfully on a host of world problems. It's likely that no man on Earth is in such high demand for a particular brand of attention and service.

Everyone from Barack Obama to Mitt Romney would like to know how he does it. And he did it again Wednesday. Perhaps his heir is out there, but by no means is it an heir apparent.

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