The second night of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, featured speeches by Bill Clinton, the 42nd president of the United States, as well as Elizabeth Warren, candidate for the U.S. Senate. The following contributors offered their assessments.
Alan Brinkley: Clinton was not only charismatic, but serious
It has always been remarkable, I think, how Bill Clinton can bring a crowd alive, and that's what he did on Wednesday night. It was a speech full of wonky policy issues, the things he likes so well. But after so many months of paid advertisements playing ugly criticisms of the opposition, Clinton was not only charismatic, but serious.
For years now, conventions have been carefully organized for television without any real energy or excitement, one of the reasons that so few people are watching them anymore. But Clinton turned the convention into a real conversation about policy, about politics, and about the future.
His viewers might not agree with much of what he says, but his speech was still an event of the campaign. I wonder whether President Obama, who can give a pretty good speech himself, feels that Clinton has overtaken him. I wonder if Clinton's speech will lead to a more honest way of arguing about ideas and policy. I doubt it. But it might help at least some people to think about serious things.
Alan Brinkley is the Allan Nevins professor of history at Columbia University.
John Avlon: Our most talented politician makes Obama's case
Bill Clinton's speech reminded many Americans why he remains our country's most beloved and naturally talented politician, for all his faults.
On Wednesday night, he cut through the predictable partisan spin by making a credible and compelling case for Barack Obama's re-election -- better, frankly, than the president has made himself to date.
Full disclosure: I was a Clinton kid. I was a freshman in college in 1992, and Bubba's campaign inspired the sense that there was a third way, between the far right and far left, that could actually solve problems instead of simply demagoguing them. He was my sub-generation's JFK, and he inspired my unapologetic centrist politics.
Bill Clinton can talk policy without putting anyone to sleep. That means communicating a love of ideas that can be put into action. And so in Wednesday night's speech he offered a seminar in how to contrast constructively; putting forward stats that resonate with common-sense values.
Case in point: Clinton's analysis of health care reform, and even the comparative deficit and debt plans, resonates on Main Street because he talks in terms of values and respects the intelligence of the American people. He surgically skewered the alternative Republican plans as well. In the process, he reminded us that good policy can be good politics, connecting with humor to the head and heart.
Some of the unrelenting Clinton nostalgia from baby boomers stems from the fact that he reminds them of when they were younger than today, and possibly wealthier and more influential than they might be now. But the fact that Bill and Hillary Clinton are today apparently the most admired Democrats among Republicans -- who once made hating them a cottage industry, as they do with the Obamas today -- is ironic and sadly hilarious, a reminder of how shallow and unprincipled poisonous hyperpartisanship always ultimately is.
If Bill Clinton were constitutionally eligible for another term, he would win. If swing voters all listened to Wednesday night's speech, I believe Barack Obama would win this election.
But Clinton's speech Wednesday night was both a seminar and a reminder of why we should love civic debates, as a matter of style and substance, focused on policy as well as politics. Write this line down: "Democracy ... does not have to be a blood sport; it can be an honorable enterprise that advances the human interest." Remember it and aspire to it, taking heart amid all the heat, to persevere in the belief that something at least a little bit better can always be within our reach.
John Avlon is a CNN contributor and senior political columnist for Newsweek and The Daily Beast. He is co-editor of the book "Deadline Artists: America's Greatest Newspaper Columns." He is a regular contributor to "Erin Burnett OutFront" and is a member of the OutFront Political Strike Team. For more political analysis, tune in to "Erin Burnett OutFront" at 7 ET weeknights.
Maria Cardona: Clinton answers the 'better off' question with resounding 'Yes!'
President Clinton's speech, delivered in his unique, well, Clintonesque manner, crystallized the choice this election. He spelled out in the way only he can why Republicans seem to have a visceral reaction to President Obama and how that has kept them from putting the interests of the nation before their politics. And he did it with emotion that was rational, passionate and pragmatic.
He spoke directly to those disaffected swing voters who are disenchanted with the pace of the change they voted for in 2008, by explaining that it was not Obama who changed or who didn't work to deliver, it was the Republicans who kowtowed to their extreme wings and put the goal of defeating the president before any commitment to solving the big problems facing this nation.
He set the record straight on Medicare and on GOP fabrications about Obama's stance on welfare reform, and he unequivocally answered the question of whether we are better off today than when Obama took office: The answer was a resounding yes. Clinton's credibility and history with a similar economic situation (though Clinton said that no president could have fixed the damage Obama was handed in just four years) made him the right messenger to the right audience at the right time for Obama. He delivered and he delivered big.
Other notable speeches? Elizabeth Warren, Cristina Saralegui -- the Latina Oprah Winfrey -- and of course Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown University law student smeared by Rush Limbaugh for speaking out for contraception coverage. They spoke to critical audiences within the Democratic Party: progressives who see Warren as a champion and crusader for consumer protection against a Wall Street run amok; progressive and independent women for whom Fluke embodies concern about politicians making decisions about their bodies, their families and their lives; and Latinos for whom Saralegui is an icon. She was introduced by a compelling "Dreamer," Benita Veliz, underscoring the importance of immigration reform.
All three women spoke eloquently and from the heart about the only candidate in the race they said would fight for middle-class families, women, Latinos, Dreamers. One who would uphold the ideals of fairness, opportunity, hard work and compassion that reflect a country where everyone has the chance to achieve the American dream.
Maria Cardona is a Democratic strategist, a principal at the Dewey Square Group, a former senior adviser to Hillary Clinton and former communications director for the Democratic National Committee.
Ana Navarro: Sweet justice for the man from Hope, Arkansas
On Wednesday night, Bill Clinton showed us what a political comeback looks like. In 2008, during the Democrat primary, he went from being the "first black president" to being accused of racism.