The Secretary of Explaining Stuff came to Miami on Tuesday – and he lived up to the new nickname given him by President Barack Obama.
From Medicare to education policy to the national debt, former President Bill Clinton held forth at Florida International University for a 40-minute speech that praised Obama and criticized Republican policy.
“The test is not whether you think everything’s hunky-dory – if that were the test, the president would vote against himself,” Clinton said. “He knows everything’s not hunky-dory. He knows how bad some people are hurting… The test is whether he’s taking us in the right direction – and the answer then is yes.”
In many ways, the speech was a reprise of the nationally watched speech Clinton gave last week at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., in which he presented a point-by-point rebuttal to the case Republicans had made at their own convention in Tampa a week earlier.
“I believe with all my heart that a society that basically says, ‘You’re on your own’ is never going to be as successful in a highly competitive and interdependent world as a society that says, ‘We don’t have a person to waste,’” he said. “We’re all in this together.”
Obama nicknamed Clinton the “Secretary of Explaining Stuff” during a Saturday event in St. Petersburg.
“Somebody sent out a tweet, ‘He needs to be made Secretary of Explaining Stuff.’ I like that!” Obama said, “I have to admit, it didn’t say ‘stuff.’ ”
Clinton explained away on Tuesday in Miami, while Republican Mitt Romney's campaign was largely silent, saying the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks shouldn’t be about politics. Both Obama and Romney pulled negative ads during a one-day 9/11 truce.
Still, the Romney campaign did point out that Clinton and Obama have misrepresented the effectiveness of the president’s proposed debt-reduction plan.
“President Obama has run up more debt in just four years than any president in American history,” Romney spokesman Jeff Bechdel said in a statement. “It’s a debt that will lead to higher taxes on the middle class, prolonged unemployment, and a diminished standing for our country. The only thing worse than President Obama’s record of reckless debt is the fact he doesn’t have a credible plan to correct it.”
Clinton indirectly took on the criticism over the debt and the president’s stimulus bill. He pointed to Europe, saying austerity measures have slowed its economy down – a challenge to Romney’s longstanding criticism of Obama having a European-style perspective when it comes to government. More government spending in down times is actually needed, Clinton said.
“There’s not enough private economic activity to grow the economy fast enough to allow us to effectively bring down the debt,” he said.
Clinton began his speech to the crowd of about 2,300 by remembering 9/11. His wife was a U.S. senator from New York, his daughter worked in lower Manhattan and he was in Australia, Clinton said, before President Bush arranged for him to return.
“This day is about citizenship,” Clinton said. He was introduced by Lt. Ignatius “Iggy” Carroll, whose day job is spokesman for the Miami Fire Department.
It took a while for the crowd to get warmed up – literally – before Clinton’s remarks. Most in the audience had been caught in a torrential downpour before entering the U.S. Century Bank Arena.
Still, judging by how the crowd hung on to his every word, Clinton is a potent political weapon for Obama for which Romney doesn’t have much of an equal. Clinton plans to stump Wednesday in Orlando, a battleground county in the nation’s biggest battleground state, without which Romney probably can’t win the White House.
The Pew Research Center found that, among those who watched the convention, about twice as many viewers believed Clinton’s speech was the highlight compared to Obama’s address.
At Tuesday’s rally, 31-year-old Jessica Fernandez couldn’t choose between which of the two men she’d rather hear speak.
“Together would be great,” she said. Of Clinton, she added: “He’s got charisma, the likeability factor.”
Though Clinton got the most applause when he mentioned Pell grants and other federal funding for college students, he didn’t let the younger crowd keep him from launching a lengthy defense of Obama’s healthcare plan that trimmed future Medicare expenses. Romney said he’d reverse those cuts.
“The Medicare trust fund, instead of running out of money in 2024, will now go broke in 2016” under Republicans’ plan, Clinton said. “Which means they’ll have to change Medicare as we know it… or take money away from education.”
In suggesting that Medicare itself would go bankrupt, Clinton is probably
exaggerating because, government officials say, Congress has never allowed the
program to run out of money.
And though the trust fund could start running out of money, people will still be paying taxes into the system. So it’s not as if Medicare’s entire revenue stream would be eliminated by reversing Obamacare’s cuts.
Clinton’s claim that Romney will take money from education can’t be proved – or disproved. Romney refuses to say just how he’ll balance the budget or make up for the loss of projected Medicare savings by reversing Obamacare.
Clinton spoke with notes but without a prepared speech. Sometimes, when discussing trade, he sounded like an economist. Other times, he struck a conversation tone, referring to the GOP’s attacks as “a mangy old dog.”
The crowd laughed. But he warned them to respect Republicans, especially when
it came to Medicare.
“They got away with running this old dog through the chute in 2010,” he said. “Next time it happens it’s our fault.”
And that’s why Obama wants Clinton out front, stirring Democrats and independents: to make sure it’s not the Democrats’ fault this time.
--PATRICIA MAZZEI AND MARC CAPUTO