Toughest job ever: fact-checking Bill Clinton

Bill Clinton rescued the Democratic convention from a complete collapse last night with a strong — but far too long — nominating speech on behalf of Barack Obama.  Prior to his arrival, Democrats had embarrassed themselves by voting to disregard God and the long-established capital of a close ally, and then forcing the party’s leadership to blatantly override the clear rejection of that amendment.  Once again, abortion and contraception dominated the evening, this time all the way into the prime-time hour as Sandra Fluke’s speech inexplicably got shifted to 10 pm.  It’s as if Democrats not only are disregarding the priorities of voters in this economy, but want to lecture them about their priorities as well.  And if the final hour was bad, Chris Cillizza says the set-up hour before it was even worse:

The 9-10 pm [ET] hour: This hour, which should have been building to the Warren and Clinton speeches, was entirely forgettable — filled with overly long speeches by the president of the United Auto Workers and people negatively affected by Bain Capital.  Given the prominence of the hour, the content contained within it was decidedly disappointing.

Clinton, though, stuck to the biggest issues of the day: economy, jobs, health-care reform, and entitlements.  He made about the only argument that can be made for Obama, and the one that Obama’s self-assessed grade of “incomplete” suggests — that four years wasn’t enough to fix the huge problems created by the economic crisis:

Now, look. Here’s the challenge he faces and the challenge all of you who support him face. I get it. I know it. I’ve been there. A lot of Americans are still angry and frustrated about this economy. If you look at the numbers, you know employment is growing, banks are beginning to lend again, and in a lot of places, housing prices have even began to pick up.

But too many people do not feel it yet. I had this same thing happen in 1994 and early ‘95. We could see that the policies were working, that the economy was growing, but most people didn’t feel it yet. Thankfully, by 1996, the economy was roaring, everybody felt it, and we were halfway through the longest peacetime expansion in the history of the United States. But the difference this time is purely in the circumstances. President Obama started with a much weaker economy than I did. Listen to me now. No president, no president — not me, not any of my predecessors — no one could have fully repaired all the damage that he found in just four years.

Within the Democratic Party, no one has the standing that Clinton does to make that argument.  That doesn’t make it true, however, nor does it mean that the current policies are working.  With median household income falling faster in Obama’s recovery than during the recession and the workforce near a 30-year low in population participation rates, we’re going in the wrong direction.  But as a defender of Obama, Clinton succeeded in making the best possible argument as believable as he could make it.

Of course, this depends on how much credibility one puts in Bill Clinton in the first place.  This was the only sitting President ever convicted of perjury while in office, after all, and his tendency to waggle his finger while telling a whopper resurfaced last night as well.  The Associated Press offered up a fact check that, while a little thin, hammered Clinton on some of his key arguments in the speech:

“For the last two years, health care spending has grown under 4 percent, for the first time in 50 years. So, are we all better off because President Obama fought for it and passed it? You bet we are.”

THE FACTS: That’s wishful thinking at best. The nation’s total health care tab has been growing at historically low rates, but most experts attribute that to continued uncertainty over the economy, not to Obama’s health care law.

I found the continuing defenses of ObamaCare a little surprising.  Why keep bringing up something so unpopular at a national convention?  With that and the Abortion-Palooza, this has become a base-turnout convention, not one intended to convince anyone but true believers to vote for Obama.

The biggest hit came on Clinton’s claims about the economy:

CLINTON: “I know many Americans are still angry and frustrated with the economy. … I experienced the same thing in 1994 and early 1995. Our policies were working but most people didn’t feel it yet. By 1996, the economy was roaring, halfway through the longest peacetime expansion in American history.”

THE FACTS: Clinton is counting on voters to recall the 1990s wistfully and to cast a vote for Obama in hopes of replicating those days in a second term. But Clinton leaves out the abrupt downward turn the economy took near the end of his own second term and the role his policies played in the setting the stage for the historic financial meltdown of 2008. …

Sure enough, the tech-heavy Nasdaq composite stock index and the Dow Jones industrial average both peaked in March 2000. The bursting of the high-tech bubble dragged down the economy and markets through the rest of the year. From September 2000 to January 2001, when Clinton left office, the Nasdaq dropped 46 percent. Even now, in 2012, the Nasdaq has not returned to its 2000 peak. By March 2001, the economy toppled into recession.

The AP surprisingly offered this reminder of Clinton’s role in the economic collapse, too, although the article makes no mention of the Community Reinvestment Act and the steps Clinton took to create an explosion in subsidized sub-prime lending:

Also, as president, Clinton supported the 1999 repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, a law dating back to the Great Depression that separated banking from high-risk financial speculation. Robert Rubin, who had been Clinton’s first treasury secretary, helped broker the final deal on Capitol Hill that enabled the repeal legislation to pass. Some financial historians say the repeal of the law paved the way for banks to invest in risky investments like mortgage-backed securities and collateralized debt obligations that played a role in the 2008 financial meltdown.

With all of that said, though, Clinton provided perhaps the first argument for Obama on topics that concern voters in 2012 of this convention.  We’ll see how effective Clinton was, but it’s also questionable how many people stuck around through the debacle that preceded Clinton all day long to hear him.  I’m guessing that most of the audience were those same true believers to whom Democrats pandered for hours prior to his taking the stage.