After dozens of speakers, it was former President Bill Clinton who finally summed up the 2012 election as no one before him did.
"My fellow Americans, all of us in this grand hall and everybody watching at home, when we vote in this election, we'll be deciding what kind of country we want to live in," Clinton said toward the end of his remarks. "If you want a winner-take-all, you're-on-your-own society, you should support the Republican ticket. But if you want a country of shared opportunities and shared responsibility, a we're-all-in-this-together society, you should vote for Barack Obama and Joe Biden."
Clinton's summation capped a classic oration in which he defended Obama (and, to a large extent, himself) from attacks leveled at the Republican convention last week. Clinton managed to do in a single speech what the Obama campaign has struggled to do all summer, which is present a defense of its ideas without sounding like it's on the defensive.
Democratic presidents have presided over more private-sector job creation since JFK was in the White House, Clinton said. Why? "It turns out that advancing equal opportunity and economic empowerment is both morally right and good economics," he explained. "When you stifle human potential, when you don't invest in new ideas, it doesn't just cut off the people who are affected; it hurts us all."
Why would people go for it? Because it's a politically easy message. "When times are tough and people are frustrated and angry and hurting and uncertain, the politics of constant conflict may be good," Clinton said. "But what is good politics does not necessarily work in the real world. What works in the real world is cooperation, business and government, foundations and universities."
Cooperation versus constant conflict? In an era where gridlock is the norm on Capitol Hill, where Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell identified his No. 1 priority as defeating President Obama (as opposed to, say, creating jobs), cooperation is sounding pretty good.
"Why does cooperation work better than constant conflict? Because nobody's right all the time, and a broken clock is right twice a day," Clinton said. "And every one of us -- every one of us and every one of them, we're compelled to spend our fleeting lives between those two extremes, knowing we're never going to be right all the time and hoping we're right more than twice a day."
It's a candid admission of fallibility in an era of false certainties, where Republicans just know that cutting taxes and government will lead to a land of milk and honey, prosperity for all. But even though the details of the GOP economic plan are murky, the outcomes are fairly predictable: Rising taxes occasioned by truncated deductions, a government incapable of performing its job, or exploding national debt. It's simple arithmetic, Clinton said.
(And we know it's true; under Obama, with tax cuts passed under George W. Bush extended but spending unchecked, deficits and debt have grown. The interest on that debt will consume ever larger portions of the federal budget until the government is no longer able to function.)
There will surely be those who take Clinton's call for political cooperation as a siren song of socialism, but they are ignorant of his record and reality. While he did raise taxes, he oversaw a booming peacetime economy, an expansion of jobs and the moving of people from welfare to work. He's shown his ideas aren't just theories, but that they worked in the real world. And they can again.
So that's the choice: You're on your own. Or we're all in this together.
Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at (702) 387-5276 or email@example.com.