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Bill Clinton
Associated Press/Photo by J. Scott Applewhite
Bill Clinton

Circa Clinton

2012 Conventions | The former president's crowd-pleasing speech Wednesday night had convention delegates longing to have him in the White House again

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - In the streets surrounding Time Warner Cable Arena in downtown Charlotte Wednesday night, the Democratic buzz centered on two words: Bill Clinton.

After the former president's late-night speech at the Democratic National Convention (DNC), delegates reveled in a performance that delivered the most charged moment of either convention.

"I wish he could run again," said one woman pressing through the crush of people pouring out of the arena. "Can't they change the rules?"

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Indeed, Clinton seemed wistful for his own time in office, telling the crowd that despite a GOP-controlled Congress, the economy "came roaring back" under his watch. He spent less time analyzing how Republican dominance of Congress aided the progress he celebrated.

Still, in many ways, Clinton gave the kind of address that Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney will perhaps wish he had delivered: a self-assured, crowd-pleasing, play-by-play answer to many of the talking points in the GOP playbook.

Clinton's speech was heavy on economic policy points and light on the kind of personal anecdotes Romney delivered to introduce the country to the man.

Clinton sought to re-introduce Romney to the country last night in a speech tailored for independent voters unsure about their choices. He boiled down the Republican message to America to four words: "You're on your own."

If Romney would leave Americans on their own, the rest of Clinton's speech aimed to show how President Barack Obama was for Americans. Clinton highlighted job gains in some sectors and the landmark healthcare legislation passed in 2010.

On that score, Clinton praised the healthcare plan by touting a handful of accomplishments: Insurance companies have delivered refunds, children can stay on their parents' plans until they are 26, and senior citizens have secured preventative screenings for heart problems and cancer.

But Clinton didn't linger long on healthcare - Obama's signature piece of legislation - or answer the question the GOP is asking: How will we pay for it?

Few Democratic speakers over the last two days have tackled that question. While many have promoted worthy ideas like improved education, better healthcare, and help for the middle class, it remains unclear how the government would pay for broad programs over the long haul in the face of a deficit that is swelling every year.

Earlier this year, Secretary of Treasury Timothy Geithner admitted he wasn't sure exactly how Democrats would face the debt crisis. When Rep. Paul Ryan (now the Republican vice presidential nominee) pressed Geithner on debt in a congressional budget hearing in February, Geithner conceded, "We're not coming before you to say we have a definitive solution to our long-term problem. What we do know is that we don't like yours."

If Clinton's speech aimed to reach independent voters worried about the economy, the rest of the evening played to the base, including a series of speakers who lauded the Democratic Party's pro-abortion position without using the word "abortion."

The evening started with a prayer by Vashti Murphy McKenzie, thefirst woman elected as a bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. McKenzie prayed, "Do not allow women to be enslaved by prehistoric ideas of biological function."

Contraception activist Sandra Fluke appeared in a prime time spot and warned of a dangerous future for women under a Republican presidency. She predicted that Romney wouldn't stand up to "any of the extreme, bigoted voices in his own party."

Cecile Richards - president of Planned Parenthood - gave a nearly indignant defense of the nation's largest abortion provider by warning that the GOP wants to block access to birth control. She didn't mention that Republican opposition to federal funding for Planned Parenthood has centered on the organization's extensive abortion services. She did warn that Romney wants to "overturn Roe v. Wade," and she vowed, "We won't let him."

It was a reminder that while the Obama campaign couches its pro-abortion position in a wider argument over providing healthcare to women, the party remains distinctly for legalized abortion on demand.

Before last night's speeches moved into prime time, another moment of drama unfolded on the convention floor when delegates voted to amend the party's platform to include language acknowledging God and recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel - both pieces of the party's 2008 platform.

Former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland proposed the platform amendments, and DNC Chairman Antonio Villaraigosa called for floor vote. Villaraigosa appeared surprised and confused when a voice-vote delivered an unclear result. After two more votes - with nearly as many delegates shouting "no" as "yes" - the chairman declared that the "ayes" carried the needed two-thirds majority.

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