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Clinton Gives America Permission to Vote for Obama

(Doug Mills/The New York Times)

ONCE upon a time, a-w-a-y back in the day according to the oldtimers, endorsements made a difference in who got elected or defeated. If The Cincinnati Enquirer said to vote for Guy Guckenberger, then by golly, that’s what you did. I voted for Guckenberger, a liberal Republican, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. ‘Cause they knew him, and I knew them, and if they said he was okay, he probably was.

And then there came another day when endorsements didn’t mean squat. They became commonplace, weak, they stopped having influence. Nobody paid attention anymore; the Manchester Union-Leader didn’t necessarily know better than you did, they gave their endorsement to whoever they thought would make them more money. The morning paper was all for the war, but you knew the war was a terrible loser that didn’t accomplish anything but killing innocent people, from the gooks to the kid down the street, and if the paper was for Nixon you voted for anyone but.

It took awhile, but eventually Nixon’s head exploded, which could have been entertaining except it wasn’t, it was awful for the country to get lied to that way. People trusted him but he screwed them over. It was an honor to be on Nixon’s enemies list. If you were an enemy of Nixon you were a friend of the country.

Harold Stassen ran for president but nobody noticed. He only did it to get his name in the paper, and eventually even that stopped working. Three lines on page 26: “Stassen Not Dead Yet, Apparently.”

“Woman Says She Saw Stassen by the Frozen Foods.”

“Stassen Hasn’t Lived Here Since 1946.”

“Old Xerox Machine Wakes Up Every 4 Years and Says It’s Harold Stassen.”

In fact, the last political endorsement of any stature, the last one that actually changed things, came in 1968 when the governor of Maryland switched sides. Ooh, headlines! History changed course; this is true, now, so pay attention: “Agnew Annoyed by Rockefeller ‘Snub,’ Backs Nixon Instead.”

Spiro Agnew ended up vice-president of the United States under Richard Nixon because of a well-timed endorsement. And though he finally resigned in disgrace just a few months before Nixon did (hello, sacrificial lamb), the endorsement game hasn’t been the same since.

“No One Gives a Damn What Spiro Agnew Thinks.”

… until last night.

Now when I say President Clinton gave Americans “permission,” I mean this in a positive way. He’s not the national study hall monitor who allows or withholds his okay to take a  break in the john. No one needs him to do that; we’re grownups.

Instead his “permission” opened up a new way of thinking; he made acceptable what previously was forbidden. He recognized a new freedom; he widened the space of the American mind.

Bill Clinton, in a rousing, raucous stemwinder of a speech, told America it’s okay to like Barack Obama.

That he’s a good guy, it’s okay to vote for him, give him four more years, we know him now, it’ll be all right.

Yes, even though he’s Black. And a Muslim socialist whatever. He’s okay. Better than the other guy, a Democrat like me, and Hillary’s for him too, so just go ahead, he won’t mess things up too much, it’s okay. Pretty wife too, nice woman, lovely daughters.

“Cool on the outside, but he burns with passion for America on the inside.”

Which is true – damn true – and everybody knows it, but we needed to hear it from someone else before we believed it.

We needed to hear it from him, Bill Clinton. President Elvis.

He speaks so well, with such utter reasonableness and a Southern accent too, that you can’t help but like the guy. You may not trust him – do NOT leave him alone with a woman – but you can’t help but like him. He’s just “got it.” Talent, brains, ambition – a heart.

And that’s what Americans are looking for, somebody who’s got a heart.

I mean, presidents come and go, and four years from now America will still be here, and the devil you know is probably better than the devil you don’t, so pull it for Barack this November and walk out proud, with one of those little stickers, “I VOTED.”

The Good Ol’ Boy said Barack’s the one, so even though you have never in your life known anyone named Barack, you can trust him. He’s okay. Lives two blocks over, solid citizen, nice wife. “I’m voting for him.”

Okay, Bubba. Good to see you again. Take care now, hear? Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.

President Clinton endorsed President Obama last night, and I think it will be enough to carry the election.

There’s always the chance of an October surprise, but anyone who tuned in to the Clinton speech last night knows, that boy was born to be a rock star.

Here is the picture that tells you a thousand words.++