In July, it was announced that Bill Clinton will be putting Obama’s name into nomination during the third night of the convention. As far as I know, having a former president do that for a current president is unprecedented in American history.
Because the first night of the convention corresponds with Labor Day, the Democrats must now shoehorn four days’ worth of speeches into three, in effect making Clinton the party’s de facto keynote speaker.
Last night we learned that the Dems paid a second visit to their political graveyard, resurrecting Jimmy Carter for a prime-time (by remote rather than in-person) speech as well.
It’s certainly not unusual for former presidents to speak at conventions. Clinton spoke at the 2008 convention, and Ronald Reagan delivered one of the finest speeches of his career in support of George H. W. Bush’s doomed reelection bid during the GOP’s infamous convention in Houston in 1992.
But what’s happening this year seems a little different. Rather than adding their voices to a broad partisan chorus, it appears as if each of these former presidents is trying to prop up a shaky incumbent.
Look, Bill Clinton is a rock star, and he certainly knows how to give a speech. But inviting him to speak may backfire.
First, voters may decide that Obama’s record - high unemployment, stagnant economic growth, mounting debt, a polarizing health care law, and a weakening of welfare reform - compares unfavorably with Clinton’s: A booming economy, a balanced budget, cooperation with a GOP Congress, and popular legislative wins such as welfare reform.
Second, Bill Clinton often exercises a former president’s prerogative to say whatever he wants, regardless of the consequences. That’s what led him to call Mitt Romney’s business history “sterling,” and to speak favorably of extending the Bush-era tax cuts.
Standing in front of a nationally televised audience, one can only imagine what this spotlight-hugging former president may say about a successor for whom he has, at different times, expressed support, criticism, and indifference.
As for picking Jimmy Carter, that makes no sense at all.
Some Republicans have been trying to equate Obama with the malaise man of the 1970s. Putting him front and center seems to make this job easier.
Further, President Carter also has a tendency to veer off script, and his controversial stances on certain foreign policy issues – especially as pertains to Israel and the Palestinian question – have diminished his credibility and his relevance as an opinion leader in some quarters.
It also makes him a potential liability with a key constituency - Jewish voters – with whom Obama already has problems.
If Obama wanted to make former Democratic presidents a presence in his re-nominating convention, he could have chosen better than either Clinton or Carter, thanks to the rise of holographic performing.
Tupac Shakur and Elvis Presley both returned to the stage thanks to this new technology.
Wouldn’t you like to watch Roosevelt deliver a ringing "endorsement" of Obama in his distinctive stentorian tone?
Or, wouldn’t it be cool to watch JFK shake hands with the man his daughter Caroline called, “a president like my father?”
How about Harry Truman exhorting Obama to “Give ‘Em Hell” from beyond the grave?
Anyway, I hope I’ve made my point.
Conventions should be about the nominee’s record – especially if that nominee is the incumbent president – and vision for the future.
Hiding behind one’s predecessors – let alone one judged by the voters and history to have been a failure – is the sign of a president who lacks the record or the confidence to stand on his own.
To quote Bill Clinton’s campaign theme: “Yesterday’s gone.” In politics, tomorrow always matters most.