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Rodney K. Smith: Bill Clinton was really endorsing Mitt Romney at the convention

By Rodney K. Smith

Published: Sunday, Sept. 16 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Former President Bill Clinton gestures as he speaks at Florida International University.

Associated Press

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In a characteristically animated address to his fellow Democrats at their recent convention in Charlotte, former President Bill Clinton nominated President Barack Obama to a second term. Clinton, who helped create nearly 21 million jobs in eight years in office, like President Ronald Reagan, who helped create nearly 15 million jobs, understands the dynamic of job creation.

It is not surprising, therefore, that Clinton emphasized two attributes of leadership that lead to job growth — cooperation and understanding arithmetic. If one looks at reality, not rhetoric, and past performance, not promises, it is clear that Clinton was not so subtly endorsing Mitt Romney.

Clinton could have emphasized many leadership traits that favor Obama, such as Obama's unwavering vision of a progressive future, which was central to most talks given at the Democratic convention. Instead, he chose to emphasize cooperation and arithmetic, or the command of data in the decision-making process.

A brief examination of their respective records reveals that Romney's performance regarding cooperation and his command of arithmetic is stronger than Obama's. Let us begin with cooperation or working across the aisle in a bipartisan way.

Clinton emphasized Obama's record in having named Republicans to his Cabinet. Not surprisingly, Clinton did not emphasize Obama's ability to work with the other party in Congress, because Obama has in fact been openly running against Congress, particularly the Republicans, and his predecessor in office.

Romney on the other hand learned to work with Democrats. Ann Romney captured this side of her husband's character when she said, "You may not agree with Mitt's positions on issues or his politics. Massachusetts is only 13 percent Republican, so it's not like that's a shock. But let me say this ... [n]o one will work harder."

In his address to the Republican convention, Romney emphasized jobs. Working with a heavily Democratic Legislature, Massachusetts went from 50th in job creation during Romney's first year as governor to 28th in his final year. Romney acknowledges that this would not have been possible without working with Democrats in the Legislature.

With time, Democrats, including the Democratic speaker of the house, came to respect Romney, even though they were often put off by his CEO style, which gets us to the second point — arithmetic.

Obama emphasizes his personal values, not his command and use of data. Michelle Obama captured this aspect of her husband's character in her address in Charlotte when, with sincere emotion, she praised his visionary style. "I've seen how the issues that come across [his desk] are always the hard ones — the problems where no amount of data or numbers will get you to the right answer ... [A]s president, you can get all kinds of advice from all kinds of people. [A]t the end of the day, when it comes time to make that decision ... all you have to guide you are your values, and your vision."

Romney, on the other hand, focuses on getting the job done. He has spent a lifetime turning around businesses, the Olympics and the economy of Massachusetts. He crunches figures — does arithmetic — to see what works and what does not. Clinton declared Romney's business performance to be "sterling."

It is not surprising, therefore, that the most conservative in his party have found it hard to warm up to Romney — they want a conservative version of Obama; they crave an unyielding value-driven conservative.

The American people will soon choose between two good men, each of whom is driven by a passion to serve the America he loves. One is a progressive visionary who seeks counsel in his liberal values. The other is a conservative-leaning, cooperating, figures-driven pragmatist, a turn-around specialist, who seeks counsel with others. Clinton endorsed the latter, Romney.

Rodney K. Smith is a distinguished professor of law at Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, Calif.

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